Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Bullying & the Rebecca Sedwick Tragedy: A Letter to my Boys to be Different

see the end of my post for a handy cheat sheet

Hello, this is David. Today I want to take a minute and share an email letter that I wrote last night to our boys. It relates to a particularly relevant topic at the moment: bullying and in particular cyber-bullying.

Colette shared the following story from CNN with me last night about a 12 year old Florida girl named Rebecca Sedwick who tragically took her own life in the midst of her despair over being bullied at school and online. This was the first I'd heard of this story, and When I read this my immediate and instinctual response was I'm sure no different than most: I was outraged - at the story itself and its sad and tragic ending, but also at the insanity of a world and a community where something like this could ever be allowed to get anywhere close to this far. Without thinking, my first response was to write a letter to our 3 boys, imploring them to be the difference-makers our world and especially today's young generation so desperately needs.

I've shared the below email just as I wrote it last night. This letter was directed to our boys, who are now 16, 13, and 11 (almost 12) years old, essentially the same ages as Rebecca and her tormenters. But this could and maybe it should just as well be an open letter to all 11-16 year olds.

Good Lord this is beyond unimaginable. This pisses me off. This should never have happened. This should never have been allowed to get anywhere near this point. Where were the good kids? Where were the brave ones? Where were the helpers?

I want to see you guys really stand out and be different, be leaders. Be willing to let God show you the big picture, what's really important and not important to spend your time willing to stand up and say no to things that are not edifying or productive uses of your time, like so many of these social networking sites, at the risk of standing out and being different, maybe even at the risk of being thought of as weird or nerdy or whatever, and instead put God and your future ahead of the distractions of your world (even distractions that "everyone" participates in and which your flesh may enjoy and crave).

There is nothing better than someone who has the guts to break from the crowd and be truly different. Don't scoff at what we're saying, or blow it off as something that we parents are overreacting to or that we "don't get"...this girl's death is a tragedy that ought to shake the 3 of you to the core as 12 and 13 and 16 year olds in the same 12-13-16 year old world that killed this girl. This could just as easily be someone you know, in fact something like this may be happening to someone you know right now... Or if not this severe, something maybe not as deadly but every bit as wrong. What if this was Chloƫ? Or one of your cousins? Well, she was someone's sister, someone's tragic and sad and infinitely unnecessary, and above all avoidable.

There is a lot of good in this world, guys, but hate to say this story sadly highlights a massive slip in conscience that has occurred in our society at large and which today has become especially pronounced among young people...this tragedy highlights the extremely amped up and distorted negative pressure that the online "alternate" social world is putting on kids today. With all the online access your generation has at such an early and immature age, so many kids who have sick or warped minds for whatever reason are way too empowered to act out their problems in an environment and in a way that has never been possible before and which has the ability to impact so many more people than ever before. There seems to be little if any resistance to people like this.

It's so sad that kids today feel such pressure to expend so much of their minds and lives on things that are not really building themselves or anyone else up, and that offer mostly just an entertainment "veg" outlet containing no intrinsic underlying value to offer even a hope of standing against evil pressures like those that came against this 12 year old.

There are far too many followers out there, of all ages but especially among today's youth. Where were the online noble youths in this case? Why didn't anyone stand up for this girl? I guarantee many if not all in the online circles she ran in knew this was happening- nothing is hidden or secret online, and these attackers clearly felt especially emboldened and were not trying to hide anything they were doing. Why didn't anyone report this? Why didn't anyone stop her from going to the place she jumped to her death? Why didn't someone put these evil sick girls in their place or turn them in or pull them aside and tell them in no uncertain terms that if they say one more thing to this girl that they would be dealt with? Why didn't anyone stand up for her? Fear? Apathy?

What things are you seeing at school or online that you know are not right? What environments are you in that you know in your gut are unhealthy? What are you spending your time on that, even if it's not "bad," you know in your heart is not doing anything to build you or anyone else up? What do you need to say "no" to today?

Please please please be leaders not followers. Do what's right no matter the cost. Don't be a bystander to things you know are hurtful to others. And if you are going to spend any of your time online, make it your mission to do your part to bring good, the Lord's light, to that environment. Be a Good Samaritan, don't walk by and ignore those that lie beaten or bruised along the roads you're walking. And have an honest conversation with yourself and ask yourself if it's really right and the best and God's purpose for you to be doing all the online things you are- no matter how generationally relevant those things may be at the moment...

Below is a cheat sheet taken from an e-mail our boys school sent out recently.

Please feel free to share it.

Online photo sharing, video-sharing, and social networking service with limited privacy settings.

A mobile app you can download to your smart phone, which you can then use to "chat" with friends through photos, videos & captions. Snapchats "expire" within ten seconds but can be shared via screenshot and can be recovered digitally. Remember, nothing online ever really goes away.

Online social networking website where users can ask other users questions, with the option of anonymity.

An online audio and video instant messaging service similar to Apple's iChat, and Skype.

Online microblogging site that allows users to share anything. Post, text, photos, links, music & video from your browser, phone, desktop, email. It is extremely simple to use, has very limited privacy settings and 'reblogging' content is common.

A mobile service that lets you create and share short looping videos. This app has a 17+ rating in the Apple App store. There are no privacy settings. All vines are public by default. 

Social media app both online & on mobile devices. Users set up a "channel" that can be private, public, pr configured to charge a fee for others to view. Allows users to share text, videos along with audio tracks, audio notes and live broadcasts. All Pheeds are public by default.

Online service that allows users to submit content in the form of either a link or a text post. Other users then vote the submission "up" or "down", which is used to rank the post and determine its position on the site's pages and front page.

Mobile device app that is used as an alternative to text messaging and is not subject to messaging restrictions on smartphones or iPads.

An online picture bulletin board that allows for anonymous posting of, well, just about anything. Beware of this one. 

*Because Facebook & Twitter are becoming the norm for adults, we find that teens are hanging out in less well-known social media forums where parents are less likely to roam. Of these, & 4chan are among the more concerning. These social media platforms allow for anonymous postings which make these sites ripe for hostile messages, cyberbullying and extremely questionable content.

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