Sunday, October 21, 2012

If I was growing up today...

...I probably wouldn't. If I was somewhere between grades six and nine in this lovely year of 2012, I'd be seriously considering suicide. Not in some melodramatic teenaged way, either. I'd be one of those methodical suicides you'd be shocked about, then realize in hindsight was inevitable.
What I wouldn't do, under any circumstances, is post my suicide note to YouTube.

I'm not sure I can say why, and that's what this blog is going to be about: my attempt to explain why I turned out pretty much okay despite five years of what I thought was constant bullying. Why suicide never did more than cross my mind when I was a young teen, and why I'm certain it would do a hell of a lot more than cross my mind if  I was that age today.

In grade three, I was one of The Popular Kids in my class. I wrote horror stories that were painfully derivative but still managed to scare people. I was the epicentre of a short-lived 'maze craze'...I actually sold little books of mazes I'd created for a buck apiece until the teachers got wind of it and put a stop to it. I was even popular with the ladyfolks, even though in grade three I was still pretty innocent regarding the depths of ladyfolk charm.  (Kissing 'em was sure fun, though...)

I moved to London to start grade four, the first of many moves to come. London was only about two and a half hours away from my Bramalea home, but it might as well have been on the far side of Neptune. I went from well-regarded to pond scum pretty much instantly.

It didn't help that I got glasses that summer.

They were desperately needed, of course, but I was at least as desperate not to get them. Nerds wore glasses. I sensed a whole lot of nerd within me just waiting for its chance to be seen and stomped. I was so convinced that glasses were a one-way ticket to social doom that it became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The bullying was low-grade, for the most part. Not much blood spilled. A few well-placed kicks, a few lunches squashed, a few things I've kind of suppressed. I do remember getting stuffed into a garbage can--a full one--and also a locker; I remember constant belittlement, a whole lot of taunting, unthinkingly vicious. It left internal scars, some of which have not healed even to this day.

What kept me sane? Several things. One, I loved school. I loved learning; I loved showing teachers what I'd learned even more. Teachers didn't bully me. The worst I could accuse them of was forcing me to go out for recesses I very much hated. But recesses were only fifteen minutes, twenty at some schools.

I could go home after school to loving parents. Granted, I'd have to keep my eyes peeled for my tormentors on the way home, sometimes going out a different door, sometimes detouring a couple of blocks out of my way, but once I got home, I was home. I wasn't a spazz or a fag or anything else in my bedroom: I was just Kenny, and Kenny was free to bury himself in books where the characters didn't mock or tease. So that's what Kenny did. The outside world very quickly became a thing to be avoided. Too unpredictable, too many things out there that snarled and occasionally bit.

I kept most of my problems from those loving parents, in case you're wondering. Gentle prodding suggested three parentally sanctioned strategies for dealing with bullies, and NONE of them work, and anybody who has been bullied for any length of time will tell you as much, but what do us bullied kids know?

1) FIGHT THE BULLY.

Yeah, sure. I'll get right on that. Then I'll be tossed off like a flea and mutilated.

2) RAT THE BULLY OUT.

They love that. They just love getting in trouble for something that's so pleasurable. After the trouble is over, they're in a worse mood than usual, and they're motivated to get you but good.

3) IGNORE THE BULLY AND HE'LL GO AWAY.

Bzzzzzt. Ignore a bully and he'll escalate the behaviour until you're stuck in a garbage can or bleeding in a pile on the ground. "Going away" is not in a bully's nature. He bullies on his time and on his terms and he does it until he's ready to stop.

But I had my classroom and I had my bedroom and I was the king of both those places as far as I was concerned. Whereas today...today there's this thing called the Internet.

*************

I was heartbroken reading about Amanda Todd. Just heartbroken. Her story, while completely different from mine in its particulars (and outcome), resonates strongly with me.

Grade seven: she bares her breasts on webcam for a stranger. Okay, now here's where I suspect most parents are cringing and shouting stop this bus, I want to get off, what kind of girl-child does this and where are her parents? The answers to those two questions are many, maybe most and completely oblivious. Emma Teitel says in this week's Macleans that parents are frighteningly naive about what happens in the basements and bedrooms in their homes. Chances are very good to excellent that your little girl has been playing in some of the darker corners of the (spider)web...sometimes unknowingly, often very much willingly. Attention is probably the most powerful of drugs to a teenaged mind. And, of course, where the girls play, the boys will follow, so yep, your little boy's probably seen and done more than you know about, too.

Your fault, parents? Not really. I mean, yes, you should never have let the computer, with or without webcam, wind up in your little girl's bedroom, but let's face it: children of that certain age are evasion experts. If there's trouble out there (there is), and if they've a mind to go looking for it (many of them do), then they're going to find it despite your best efforts.

So that shy little breast-baring begins a sordid story of blackmail, widespread bullying (cyber- and otherwise) and mental breakdown that culminates in suicide. Before that tale fully plays out, her parents move three times in an effort to give their daughter "a fresh start".

Oh, the false promise of the "fresh start". I had four of them, myself: I moved between grades five and six, halfway through grade seven, between grades eight and nine, and again to start grade eleven. The problem for me was that wherever I went, there I was: a fresh fuckface ready to be worked over. The problem for Amanda was more pervasive: wherever she went, she dragged her Internet past and persona with her.

I actually saw somebody questioning why Amanda didn't just delete her Facebook account. Seems logical, if you're an adult. But to a teen today, that's something akin to deleting her eyes and ears. You might see and hear some awful things, but do you blind and deafen yourself because of them? You might as well just kill yourself and have done with it. I have seen and heard several teenagers threaten suicide with the loss of their Net connection, and while some of them were probably posturing, I'm not so sure about others. So much of yourself is invested in an online presence these days that you're literally nothing without one.

Many people, on and offline, taunted Amanda and told her she could end it all just by...ending it all. She couldn't escape it any other way. Eventually she gave up...and I can't say I blame her.

Fight the bully? How? Thanks to the Internet, she didn't even know who her primary bully was.

Rat him out? How? See above. Plus, Amanda felt she brought all this on herself, and so this was her cross to bear. After awhile she was absolutely sure of this. Coming forward meant publicly admitting it...unthinkable.

Ignore him and he'll go away? That picture is out there, still circulating, and there are still any number of hateful comments directed Amanda's way even though she's now dead.

That YouTube testimonial, though...I know why she did it--it got her the attention she really needed, albeit far too late to do any good for her. Personally, I wouldn't have left an online note. Because if I was growing up today....it would be the Internet that would kill me.


*****
Part two to follow: Vigilantes--bullying the bullies?

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