This isn’t going to be a fun post. I’m angry and need to vent.
Today my youngest daughter, a freshman in high school, was cyberbullied. It was a brutal attack that had all the makings of a high school drama.
The kind of thing I could see coming from far away. And the kind of thing as a parent in the age of social media, you fear.
Let me start by telling you about my kid. She’s no angel. She has a temper and has a hard time taking no for an answer. She also hasn’t yet mastered the art of taking responsibility for her actions, instead most often offering an excuse why the dishwasher wasn’t emptied. Or the dogs weren’t fed. Or why the laundry wasn’t folded. We’re working on that, though it’s been my experience that kids don’t exactly embrace the beauty of accountability. Over this past year I’ve also heard her use, and immediately apologize for, language that, well, she’s heard me use. When I’m angry. Or when something doesn’t go my way. My bad. I’m no angel either.
She’s a good student. Not great. I routinely say that she’s the smartest person in our house (of four.) She sees things others don’t. She makes connections about concepts as fast as I do. She’s smart. She’s just not a great student. To her high school has always been this amazing place where Disney Channel shows take place. And so when she started this year, part of me feared how she’d fare, because of one other important thing about her –
Cozette gives hear heart away easily. Too easily. It’s sad to say, but in this world giving your heart away like she does is considered a character flaw.
Her older sister is more reserved. More cautious about who she opens up to and lets in. Not Cozette. Cozette will embrace a perfect stranger if that’s what the stranger needs. The thing about giving someone the shirt off your back? That was written with Cozette in mind. My biggest fear all her life was seeing her heart broken.
And today, it was smashed. Today a group of kids decided that her flaw was a weakness that could be easily exposed for their gain in popularity, indifference, or self-esteem–who knows. A boy at her school with some influence on social media (particularly SoundCloud) decided to make a rap song about Cozette that humiliated her in the worst ways. That she’s ugly. Fake. A whore. And other things that would make her (or any kid) feel like their life was worthless.
As soon as the boy posted the song, people began to comment. Including some of Cozette’s closest “friends.” Here’s the original screenshot of the boy announcing to his Instagram followers that he launched a new “diss track” (as they call them). The first comment below is by one of Cozette’s oldest “friends,” not one of the new girls she’s met this year (they come later) –
Within minutes, word of this new “diss track” spread across the school thanks to this influential bully. Because the thing is, this “diss track” against my kid wasn’t his first. This guy posted a half-dozen of these things since the beginning of the school year, but until today they were all aimed at boys. Boys who were too afraid to stand up to him. Because, you know, he’s a “talented rapper” who turned bullying into an art form. Plus, bad things happen to snitches.
Devastated, Cozette did what any kid would do and called her mom. Shocked, my wife reached out to the girl who commented in the photo above. A girl we’ve known for a decade. My wife demanded that the posts be removed, or she was going to go to the girl’s mother. Then, within minutes, word spread that Cozette snitched. And that’s when her new “friends” posted this:
Which is clearly a physical threat and is at *least* a class one misdemeanor in North Carolina. Cozette received messages like this for about an hour this afternoon threatening violence for telling someone about the bullying.
And you wonder how bullies get away with it.
Yes, this can all be tied back to high school drama—the likes of which you can stream on Netflix. No, I don’t believe that other kids’ parents know that their kids are capable of things like this. And no, I don’t believe my daughter engages in bullying at school and somehow had it coming. That’s not who she is. I know because I’m a pain-in-the-ass father who gets involved. I know my daughters. Sadly, as she rushed off to high school this year eager to make new friends, she fell in with a group of girls who’d known each other for years. And then Cozette, the outsider, gave them her heart.
She was an easy target.
Until this afternoon, bullying was something over there that happened to other people. I’ve never engaged in it directly, and as far as I know my wife and daughters don’t either. Which is not to say we’re perfect. Far from it. We just have a little more respect and compassion for others to engage in such a dark practice.
At some point this afternoon I guess the ringleader (the bullying rapper) realized that his post was a really bad idea and deleted it–along with all his other “diss tracks” on SoundCloud. He also deleted his Instagram. And other kids were deleting comments all over social media. But the damage was done. And we captured enough proof (including the actual “diss track”) to ensure that bullying takes center stage at the high school for a few days.
Or perhaps these kids realized that they fucked with the wrong family.
After the events of the afternoon settled, I posted about it on my Facebook and my friends there responded with full support. In fact, in response to the threats for “snitching,” my friend Nathan Richie procured and built this page StichesForSnitches.org. Another friend created a Stitches for Snitches FB page. Still others offered to help in a range of ways, and many sent links to stories about bullying and their effects on kids. Most of us have seen the recent story about Keaton, but one friend DM’d me with a story of a boy who took his own life last week because of bullying. The fact that this is fairly common occurrence is a tragedy. The fact that darkness has crept inside of so many of us that we condone or even celebrate bullying is a tragedy.
It’s also really bad parenting by people who probably care more about their cars than their children.
Naturally, my instinct is to get revenge. It’s a shitty feeling. But I know that I could unleash a wave of humiliation and pushback on these kids and their families by posting the names and social accounts of the ones responsible for bullying my daughter (the ones who haven’t deleted their accounts, that is.) There are powerful people in my network who have watched my daughters grow over the years who are just as pissed off as I am.
But I’m not going to do that. Instead, for now, we’re going to follow protocol–go to the principal and demand that this is addressed; talk to law enforcement to see whether we should press charges; ensure that this boy never does this again to anyone in that school. And then I’m going to get involved with fighting the scourge of bullying that infects too many insecure adolescents who only seem to find happiness in the misery of others. Maybe they just need a little love. Hopefully following protocol to see justice done in our scenario will provide a little tough love to kids who clearly need it.
None of this was on my to-do list today. But now it is. This is what happens when you pick on the wrong people.
One more thing I want to add about Cozette–she’s the strongest person I know. That is not just a hopeful father trying to shine a positive light. I mean it. Anyone who really knows her knows this. She’ll get through this. And she’ll be even stronger because of it.