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Opinion: Kids Don’t Have to Be Kids if Words are More Than Words

The following editorial was written by Briarcliff High School student Samantha Friedberg.

“Treat others the way you wish to be treated,” “It isn’t big to make others feel small.” Useless words without a support system.

The world is evolving; information is spit out in nanoseconds and then more follows nanoseconds later, a rapid-fire stream rushing at us every minute of every day through the Internet. And with this endless stream of facts, opinions, and meaningless rubbish come those who choose to use the Internet for evil, instead of good. They are the world’s bullies, and they are evolving with the times.

Bullying has been a social issue for generations, arguably stemming back all the way to the beginning of life itself. Children, teens and even supposed grown-ups have always been ridiculed for straying from what the times deemed “normal.” However, contrary to previous times, bullies now get the satisfaction of hiding behind a computer, the anonymity only adding to the sting of the comments these people can post. This is a new tactic that no generation in the past has had to combat. And unfortunately, the offenders only continue to grow stronger. For example, according to an article by CBS news entitled “Number of active users at Facebook over the years,” a mere six years ago, in December of 2006, there were approximately 12 million users on Facebook. Yet, as of February 2012, there are a whopping 845 million users registered on Facebook, all with the ability to wield their words like knives; all with the capability to make or break a friend or enemy. Some sites, including popular places such as Facebook, Twitter and Formspring, allow users to post anonymously to one another’s profiles, even when they don’t know each other. Slander is simple nowadays.

However, bullying should not be a popular pastime. Every day parents, teachers, coaches encourage kids and teens to speak out. “If you are being harassed, bullied, or anything of the sort, whether online or in person, please tell someone,” they say. And every day, a vast majority of the encouragements are simply that: words.

Why? What takes the meaning from the spoken? Simply put, bullying has become integrated into development. Nobody wants their child to be the bully, yet when they see the cruelty right under their noses, they shrug, and with a seemingly nostalgic grin, they mutter, “kids will be kids” with a wave of their hand. As written by Canadian researcher Stephen Downes, “The problem is that it is still socially acceptable to demean women, still socially acceptable to casually propose violent acts, still socially acceptable to engage in character assassination, and still socially acceptable to attack certain minorities…”

Socially acceptable warfare has become integrated into development and dismissed as just another part of life. Not knowing any other way to put it, I am calling now for an end to this part of growing up. Children are supposed to live care-free, and the only worry a teenager should have is when they are going to squeeze in a phone call to a friend; she shouldn’t have to look over her shoulders as she walks down the halls of high school in fear of the whispers and the postings shadowing her. And as a fellow teen and victim of the verbal and cyberspacial abuse, I can say with certainty that there is meaning behind my words; I can assure my fellow victims that they are not alone.

We teens, impressionable as we are, we are targeted for any number of reasons. We like the wrong music, the wrong clothes, the wrong foods, the wrong fads, the wrong gender, etc. Who decides, then, what is “wrong” to like versus what is “right?” Is there some unwritten handbook? For if there is, there is little doubt that millions upon millions of adolescents are searching tirelessly for it. But until that long-awaited, fateful day when one lucky teen gets their hands on that handbook, we are stuck smiling through the pain and pretending that every time a particularly cruel joke tap dances on one of our insecurities, that it doesn’t secretly kill us inside.

What is arguably the most difficult nugget of knowledge to swallow about this tragic situation—one that plagues so many but is attempted to be rectified by so few—is the contact so many come into with mortality. Often times, bully victims blame themselves for the abuse. The thoughts running through their minds include, “I’m not good enough,” or “I’m ugly and fat,” etc. It is no secret that suicide rates have increased significantly since the turn of the twenty-first century, a figure that increased by some seven thousand deaths in 2009, as recorded by the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Statistics from the CDC show that approximately every 14.2 minutes, someone in the United States takes his or her own life in suicide. In the time it took you to sit here and read these words, another life was lost. Suicide. Self-harm. It’s all fun and games, until suddenly, it isn’t.

If there is nothing else I can do with writing this piece, I would, at the very least, hope that I could leave you with this knowledge: no matter who you are, how old you are, or how you are suffering, you are not alone. You are never alone. And now to put meaning behind my otherwise bottomless promise: if you are in need of help, considering taking your own life, or just simply in need of someone to listen to you, one organization, known as the Trevor Project, was created to help. If the situation deems necessary, please don’t hesitate to call: 1-866-488-7386.


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