Tuesday, October 12, 2010

On Blogging and Bullying

Several of the more popular mommy blogs are part of my daily computer routine.  And wow, some intense things go on in the comment sections of those blogs.  When it comes to huge sites like Dooce I don’t bother to glance at the hundreds of comments posted, it is just too overwhelming.  And I basically know what they are going to say.  Most people comment in adoring agreement, and a minority are bizarrely cruel. 

On the sites with smaller readerships I will often see what is going on in the comment section, the conversation usually ranges from kind of boring to an interesting dialogue on the topic at hand.  But some bloggers with decent readerships often have “haters” (oh, how I hate that term!) who comment frequently. 

Bullying is a hot topic right now, particularly because of the extensive coverage of the suicides of several gay teens in the last few weeks.  I am terrified of T’s adolescence for so many reasons, but bullying is a big one.  Were any of you bullied?  I was.  We moved to a suburb of Chicago before I started 5th grade.  It will come as no surprise to you all to hear I was a major nerd.  But up until that point I had not been bullied.  The town we moved to was very money conscious and I had never dealt with that before.  On the first day of school kids asked me what kind of cars my parents drove.   They were not impressed with my answers of a Datsun 210 and an Oldsmobile Cutlass.  One particular boy made it his mission to make my life hell.  At first his mother was sympathetic and tried to control him, but he wouldn’t stop and she basically told my mother I was making it up.  It got so bad that I ended up in the doctor’s office with intense stomach pains.  I was actually writhing on the floor of the waiting room because the pain was so bad.  The diagnosis was stress.   I was eleven. 

I never want T to go through that, but if I was forced to choose I think I’d want him to be bullied rather than be the bully himself.  If you bully people how do you live with it as an adult?  And if you don’t have a problem living with it you certainly aren’t someone I want to have in my life.  Those are the people who are being cruel on the internet.  I am assuming many of them are parents.  They are reading and commenting on parenting blogs, so it stands to reason.  They are raising T’s contemporaries.  If they are comfortable with bulling others their children probably will be as well. 

Thankfully I have not been bullied as an adult.  But the author of one of the blogs I read is currently on a hiatus because of hateful mail and comments she has received.  I can’t imagine how terrible it must feel to be on the receiving end of that hate.  Her blog is often outrageous and honestly I disagree with her a lot.  I even have been moved to comment negatively on her posts, but I am always constructive and never ever cruel.  I’ve thought about staying away from her site, but she is pretty entertaining and I just can’t look away.  When the negative comments start coming they create a feeding frenzy.  Lately, even when some negative comments that aren’t the least bit unkind are posted her main readership transforms into troops that rally to her defense with comments that criticize any difference of opinion with swift cruelty. 

Why are grown women engaging in this behavior?  What are these women going to teach their own kids when they start having disagreements with their peers?  The name calling and pack mentality these women are a part of is frankly terrifying.

On a much happier note we had a visit this weekend from Z's sister Ellie and her wife.  As I've mentioned before, Ellie is a photographer and she did a quick photo shoot with us.  Here are a few of my favorite shots.


  1. Ok, on bullying...I believe I have experienced both sides. When I was VERY young, my siblings and I were very hurtful to a little girl in our neighborhood that had Turrette's (?) Syndrome. We didn't know that then. One particular incident, we closed her into a neighbor's garage and locked the door...we forgot and continued playing...Ugh...years later I was watching a talk show on bullies and there she was - talking about the garage incident and others. My shame and embarrassment follows me to this day.
    On the flip side, I grow up and go to High School - where I am chunky, part of the Drama Club and play the flute in the band. I am the nerdiest of nerd and afraid of everything and everyone. Yup, I got picked on big time. One girl pulled me off the balance beam in gym and I broke my ribs...I remember every name of the bullies - and I remember every name of people I bullied...hmmm
    Now MY kids. I taught them to fight. They know how to swear. My oldest is a computer geek that plays saxophone in the band. My youngest still sucks his thumb at 12 years old and is getting braces this year. They seem to be having a well rounded bullying and bullied experience but nothing too drastic.
    Be involved but not overbearing. Show your face in the crowd. Like Wild Kingdom, bullies pick the kids that are loners or don't have support...Talk-talk-talk and listen-listen-listen because it takes time for a child to blurt out their feelings. I feel better already!

  2. Laura,
    It was brave of you to tell the story of bullying. And for anyone reading the comments I can attest that Laura has become a really amazing adult, the kind I was talking about who would regret that behavior. Anyone would be lucky to call her a friend.

    The idea that you were a victim of bullying is so strange to me. I can't imagine you as a nerd at all.

    And thanks for the parenting tips. I really do dread T being old enough to encounter all this stuff.

  3. I think you should treat people in the blogsphere like you would if they were sitting in your living room. "Anonymity" seems to give people license to say some really hurtful things. I promise, I won't bully you (or anyone else for that matter) online.

  4. @Shells: that's why many news sites have made it so that you have to use your real name when commenting - cuts down a bit on the trolls and bullies. See http://www.howardowens.com/node/7349

  5. M-I agree. And I am sure you would never bully anyone, online or off.

    If you get a chance take a gander at the comments to this link on my FB page. A really smart guy I know made all of the points I was trying to make about this topic. I really failed to explain a lot of my ideas in this post. Didn't really touch on the mean behavior begetting more mean behavior. How the women defending the blogger they like use the exact same tactics at the "haters". And how the targets of the bullies can become unreasonable and mean themselves.

    Again, I don't know how it feels to be bullied on line, and I don't think I ever will. The vast majority of my very small readership comes from the links I post on FB, so I am friends of some sort with almost all of those kind enough to visit this blog. I don't think my writing has much broad appeal, so I don't worry about strangers commenting in a hurtful way. And when I set up the site I opted for the setting that requires posters to have an identity to comment. No anonymous folks here! I don't think there would be even if folks could comment anonymously, but why open myself up to the small chance of meanness?

    All of this is by way of saying if I found myself in a situation were others were being cruel to me I would hope my reaction would not be to be nasty back. Although, it is easy for me to say that because I've never gone through it...

  6. I was bullied terribly as a child, typically the least popular girl in school. In eighth grade, I went to a Waldorf school and met peers who actually liked me for the first time. One girl was a good friend for a while, then did something to betray me. I was so hurt and angry that I started being very cruel to her. It was the first time in my life that I experienced the kind of power that comes with being a hater. It was exhilarating. Luckily for me, this girl had the balls to pull me aside and point out that it would really be a shame if I were to become a mean person. I gave it some thought and realized that I knew how it felt to be in her shoes, and I never wanted to make anyone feel that way. We have choices about how we want to be in this world, and I am grateful to her for cutting my experiment with meanness short. I think it is so important to teach kids empathy.