This past Saturday a sixteen-year-old girl one town over from mine committed suicide by jumping off a parking garage at the local mall.
Like many other teen suicides, mental health issues and bullying were cited as two factors.
Some disturbing screenshots of horrible things said by a classmate appeared on social media after the news of this girl’s death quickly spread, confirming the bullying.
And then the other social media attacks came.
Attacks on the deceased girl’s parents.
Attacks on the bullying girl and her parents.
Attacks, attacks, attacks.
Attacking people is not going to solve the problem of bullying, mental health (un)awareness, and teen suicide.
I’m not sure exactly what is going to solve the problem.
But blaming and shaming and attacking is not the solution.
Have you ever fucked up as a parent pretty badly?
I know I have.
I’ve fucked up lots of times.
And I’ve also lucked out lots of times.
There have been instances where things could have gone really, really badly for me. But I was lucky.
And they didn’t.
There was the time when, unbeknownst to me (even though I was home and in the house), Number 3, in a moment of panic and near terror when he couldn’t open the door to his room from the inside, tried to convince Number 4 to jump out of the second story window — that was wide open — to “save” them when they were about three and four years old.
There was the time Number 3 and 4 were outside playing (not long after the window incident) and I was inside the house on the phone, and Number 3 dared Number 4 to run across the VERY BUSY road we live on.
AND SHE DID IT.
There was the time I was vacuuming the pool here at home while the kids were swimming and I didn’t notice Number 7 had gone underwater (even though I was just a couple feet away from her) and Number 5 (who was four years old at the time) was the one who pulled her baby sister out of the water and saved her.
I have had some close calls as a parent.
And I do my best.
I think we all do.
We do our best with what we’ve got.
When I was a junior in high school, my three-year-old brother died from leukemia.
It was a massively devastating time for my family.
As a parent, I cannot imagine going through what my parents went through.
I went through it as a sibling which was brutal.
I cannot even fathom losing your own child.
When my brother was sick and going through his treatment and then after his death, my parents made a lot of decisions that really, really, REALLY pissed me off.
Some decisions left scars that have still not totally healed.
At the time and for years after, I was so angry.
I WAS SO ANGRY.
There is a certain baseline level of anger in teenagers as it is. It is hard enough to raise them when all the variables of life are stable.
Throw in trauma and tragedy, and then, well…
Sometimes there is just no way to know what the right thing to do is.
Now in hindsight what I do know is that my parents were doing the absolute best they could.
I would imagine that simply staying alive and conscious was, for quite a while, the best they could manage.
WE ARE ALL DOING THE BEST WE CAN.
Sometimes our best is enough.
And sometimes it’s not.
I have been fortunate so far that my best has been good enough.
I believe we all have the potential to do and say things that are hurtful to other people.
Sometimes we do these things intentionally.
Sometimes we do them unintentionally.
I have said some stupid things here on the blog.
I have called people names and I have been judgmental. Especially back in the beginning. I’ve written things about people I wish I could go back and delete from history.
Most of those posts were written years ago.
But it’s not just the blog.
I was considered a pretty good teacher back in my teaching days.
Now that I’m a parent though, I cringe at some of the things I said and did when I was a young, twenty-something, single woman who knew a lot about teaching kids but nothing about parenting them.
You can’t undo history.
But you can make changes moving forward.
And that’s what I aspire to do.
My best isn’t doing things perfectly.
Or even near perfectly.
My best is knowing I will never totally get it, being as open as I can to feedback, and then finding the courage and determination to take action to do better.
Sometimes I am really receptive and open to feedback, and I improve by leaps and bounds.
Sometimes I’m in a holding pattern.
And sometimes I regress a little bit.
Like real life Chutes and Ladders.
Now that I’m a parent I want to believe that I’m fairly on top of things and doing a pretty good job of teaching my kids right from wrong and how to be competent, responsible, productive, and compassionate human beings.
But even as a grown woman I’ve said some pretty nasty things to and about people.
I was doing my best, even in those moments.
It’s just that my best now is better than my best a couple years ago.
And my best a couple years from now will (hopefully) be better than my current best.
I believe it’s naive to think our kids are not capable of being nasty.
Even the “good” kids.
Because they are still kids.
Their bodies and their brains are being constantly bombarded with hormones and outside influences.
If we as adults do and say regrettable things, even those of us who have our heads screwed on fairly straight, then we have to be realistic about our children.
Kids do lots of dumb things.
It’s part of being a kid.
It’s part of being a teenager.
It’s part of being a human being.
The kids who are bullying other kids?
They are doing the best they can do with what they are being given.
Is their best enough?
Clearly, NO. It’s not.
But I don’t think simply slamming these kids with a punishment or a severe consequence is enough.
It’s not close to enough.
In fact, I don’t necessarily believe that punishment is effective at all. Because it doesn’t effect change and understanding at the core of a human being.
I believe this behavior is a cry for help.
It may not be a purposeful cry for help.
But it is still a cry for help.
These kids need education and support and a shit ton of guidance.
And their parents probably do, too.
Slamming them for making poor decisions is not going to help them change.
I am currently finding myself in a situation where I don’t know what the best course of action is. I’ll get to that in a minute.
Do you know what a Finsta is?
A Finsta is a fake Instagram account.
Do you know that (mostly) girls have Finsta accounts that their parents are completely oblivious to?
That they post things on that account that only select friends can see?
And you have basically no way of knowing if your child has created one of these accounts?
This is one of the reasons why my middle schoolers still do not have cell phones.
Because I know what operating at my best looks like.
And right now at my current best, there is no way I can adequately monitor my kids activity on any social media. Or know for sure that they don’t have fake accounts I am oblivious to.
For that reason, they don’t have any social media or even smartphones.
My kids are, for the most part, good kids.
But I am not naive.
Sometimes the way they speak to each other is really pretty terrible.
And that lets me know they have the potential to say some pretty terrible things to other kids then, too.
Especially if they can say them behind the “protection” of a screen.
Even if I am 95% sure they would never say or post anything really awful about another person on social media, I am not equally sure they would stand up for another kid who was being bullied online.
I’d like to think they would.
But I’m realistic.
I know they have the potential to be swayed by other kids.
And even though I know I have taught them right from wrong, I cannot be certain that they won’t be the one swaying other kids.
That wouldn’t make them necessarily bad kids.
It would just make them….
Kids who have brains that aren’t fully developed and kids who can still be pretty impulsive.
So although I don’t know what the best thing to do is, I go with what I think the right thing to do is.
But who knows what the right move is at any given time, really?
I mean, we are all making some fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants calls.
We are all gambling with our decisions at some point, or points, and we are hoping our gambles pay off.
Back to that situation I mentioned earlier…
A friend of mine who monitors her child’s Instagram came across a Finsta of one of her child’s friends.
And she saw some stuff on there that was not cool. It wasn’t bullying, but it was not something her parents would approve of.
And she shared this with me in confidence as we were talking about raising teenagers and the perils of social media.
I know the Finsta-possessing child and that child’s parents.
The parents would want to know about this account and what is posted on it.
But I assured the friend who told me about it that I wouldn’t say anything. Because that would compromise the level of trust she has with her daughter.
And I am so torn between letting a fellow parent know about stuff that I would want to know about and not betraying a friend’s confidence.
I don’t know what to do.
Saying something is a gamble.
Not saying something is a gamble.
There are some people who would say, “HOW COULD YOU NOT SAY ANYTHING???”
And then there are some people who would say, “HOW COULD YOU EVEN CONTEMPLATE SAYING ANYTHING???”
Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
I know this is a little bit of apples and oranges, but it’s all relative.
We are all at different points in our levels of awareness, levels of ignorance, levels of education, levels of experience, levels of mental health, levels of physical health and levels of financial (in)stability.
And so what is one person’s best is not another person’s.
Maybe the parent of a kid who is bullying another kid is not capable of addressing it.
Maybe they are only able to bury their head in the dirt and ignore what is going on in an effort simply to stay alive.
Like my parents did when my brother died.
Maybe they are suicidal themselves.
Maybe one parent is in an abusive relationship and doesn’t know how to get out. Maybe the child who is bullying is witnessing this.
Maybe the child who is bullying is being physically or sexually abused at home.
BUT WE DON’T KNOW.
And to those people who are pointing fingers at the parents of the victim, asking how they could have been unaware of how badly their daughter was feeling or how they could have let this happen, we also don’t know what their situation is. Or what their current level of Best is.
So we can blame and shame and judge and point fingers.
But that doesn’t solve the problem.
It perpetuates it.
I think it is up to all of us to help each other get to the next level of Best.
We need to find a way to help everyone level up.
Not break them down.
What we need to break down is the ignorance and the shame.
I don’t know exactly how we do that, really.
I think education and encouragement and support are imperative.
We need to learn how to receive unpleasant feedback about ourselves.
The inability to do this often prevents people from speaking up.
And people need to speak up.
But we also need to learn how to speak up with kindness and respect.
You can deliver unpleasant information with kindness.
You don’t have to bash, berate, insult, name call and condescend to do that.
We need to teach our children how to receive and digest feedback without getting defensive and shutting down.
We need to teach our children that pointing out flaws and weaknesses does not mean they are bad people or failures or unloved.
That we do these things because we love them and to help them level up.
Mostly we need to take a good hard look at ourselves before we look at anyone else.
Then we can move on to our own children.
Because we need to remember that it’s not only other people and their kids who are (sometimes minorly and other times significantly) flawed.
We all are.