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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

No Bullies Allowed

Two months ago, The Husbinator and I took guardianship of Miss Tate. She's 14 years old. Officially that dreaded T word: a teenager. I'm only 28 so when we found out she was moving in with us I thought, "Teenager? Pfft, I can do this!"

By the end of the first week, I'd probably texted my mom, The Husbinator, my sister, and my best friend about four-thousand times to say, "OMG, do you remember teenagers being so _____." You can add your word of choice in that blank. Chances are, they're still laughing at me for the text message that contained it.

By the end of the first month, I'd come to the frightening conclusion that I had, in fact, turned into my mom. At some point during the course of the month, I'd said everything my mom used to say to me that I absolutely hated.

You better eat everything you put on your plate. Kids are starving in Africa!

If you even think about saying whatever you're about to say, you will be grounded until you're thirty!

If you change outfits one more time, you're doing your own laundry!

Turn the water off!

Brush your teeth.

Say "thank you!"

If you curse one more time...

If I ever find a picture of you in your bikini online, you'll never see another computer!

I'm not cleaning up your mess.

No, you may not skip school.

That's right, folks. One month into parenting a teenager, and I had become my mother. Death glare, even tone, tapping foot and all.

It's given me an entirely new perspective on when I was a teenager.

Turns out: I wasn't as horrid as I thought I was!

Who knew, right?

I'm serious though. I only thought being a teenage girl 10-15 years ago was difficult. In reality, I had it easy. Being a teenage girl then was a walk in the park compared to being a teenage girl today.

Teenagers, girls in particular, can be mean and spiteful. We all know this. We all went through it. But I'm genuinely shocked at how horrible girls are to one another now. Not sure what I'm talking about?

Borrow your kid's Facebook for a while and browse through friends' status updates and comments.

Hop on Topix or another popular site for teenagers, and read through some of the discussions happening in your hometown from kids in your hometown about kids in your hometown. Here’s a few little tidbits (with names removed) from my hometown:

“Of course *** would think that because she is a dumb bitch who likes to try and get pregnantthen have an abortion.”

“Pregnant every other week always a pity party for herself different boyfriend every week stop screamin rape”

“You know the saying you CAN'T TURN A HOE INTO A HOUSES WIFE! THIS Bitch is nothing more than a whore! I'm mean she ruins peoples lifes and jumps from one guy to another who ever would have her nasty azz! The sad thing is she is bouncing bed to bed…”

You get the point.

Chances are, you'll find a whole lot of similar (or worse) discussion going on. And you’re either going to walk away cringing, or you're going to shrug it off and say kids will be kids. If you're in the latter category, you're absolutely right. Kids will be kids.

And kids can be viciously and blatantly cruel.

Since Miss Tate has moved in, I’ve heard some pretty horrible things that are being said about kids she knows, or by kids she knows. She’s gotten in trouble for saying some pretty cruel things herself.

When I blogged about Trayvon Martin a couple of months ago, I mentioned that we don’t see a lot of stories like his in popular YA novels for various reasons. One of those reasons, as I said then, is perhaps because as YA authors, there’s a line we can’t (or won’t) cross.

We all know that kids have sex, but we’re not going to go into explicit detail if our characters do happen to do the deed. We all know that kids do drugs, but we’re not going to go into explicit detail on that either. We know that kids bully one another, but think about all of the bullies you’ve read about in YA novels, and then scroll back up and read the quotes I included above.

When’s the last time you saw anything close to that level of verbal bullying in a popular YA novel?

You probably haven’t, because, as YA authors, there’s that line we can’t cross. And most of us don’t want to cross it. We know how tough it can be to be a kid these days. Kids know it. They don’t want to read it in their novels. And parents definitely don’t want to see it in YA novels. And, quite honestly, most of us YA authors don’t want to write it into our novels.

But since Miss Tate moved in and I took responsibility for her and her well being, there’s this little part of me that’s started whispering, “But what exactly are we accomplishing by staying on the right side of that line?” Obviously, we’re giving kids an escape from the sad, and often tragic, things they see, hear, feel, or deal with every day. But at what expense? Bullying has become a widespread issue, but we tend to not really understand the severity of it. We think kids will be kids, and figure they'll grow out of it eventually. But the truth is kids have become downright cruel, and they don't always grow out of it. Pretending that's not true won't make the problem go away.

As YA authors, we water down the reality because we’re expected to. Because, god forbid if a YA character calls someone a nasty whore. And god forbid if a YA character has sex, or experiments with drugs. Parents would lynch us for that.

And yet… in the last two months, I’ve seen and heard things a whole lot worse from the very kids we’re supposed to be protecting from such horrid behavior and such grim realities. And in the last two months, I’ve seen and heard those same parents who scream over YA novels turn a blind eye and take a “kids will be kids” mentality when it’s their kids doing the bullying, or it's their kids cruelly pressuring their friends into experimenting with drugs or alcohol, or into beating up the girl who said it wasn’t cool to pick on the only openly gay student at school.

And I’ve realized that many of those parents have no clue what their kids are really saying or doing. I’m not going to pretend I know why that is, because I don’t. Maybe they’re too tired after working 12 hour days to monitor as closely as they’d like to. Or maybe they simply expect better of their children. I don’t know.

What I do know is this: as adults, we have got to stop ignoring kid's behavor when their behavior is at the expense of another child. As a YA author, I respect the line that's been drawn, but that doesn't mean I have to pretend the problem doesn't exist, because it does.

In two months, I’ve gained a whole new appreciation for my teen years because they were no where near as difficult as this. And I’ve gained a whole new level of respect for my mom, because she did monitor us, and she would give us ten kinds of hell if we did anything remotely close to what I’ve seen all over the place since bringing Miss Tate home.

Ten years ago, I would have been mortified to realize I'd turned into my mom. Right now, I'm pretty dang proud of that fact. Because she did teach us to treat others as we wanted to be treated. And she did make our lives miserable if we didn't. She knew then what I'm only now experiencing for myself: It's not enough to assume your kids know better, or to believe they’re well-behaved.

I love my kid. She’s smart. She’s funny. She’s compassionate. She knows how to say thank you. She recognizes that some things are simply not okay. She’s amazing, and I am beyond grateful that she's here with me and The Husbinator.

But none of that stopped her from cursing someone out on Facebook, and then posting the entire nasty show to her wall to embarras the kid. It didn’t stop her from calling her best friend a bitch on Facebook either. Had I not been paying attention, I wouldn’t have known because I know she knows better, and I assumed that she’d follow the rules. She didn’t, and unless you’re monitoring your kids, you can’t assume they are either. Because you’re right: kids will be kids.

And sometimes they need a come-to-Jesus, as we call it around here, because while we’ve been trying to protect them from the grim reality, they’ve been living it. And it’s a whole lot nastier out there than it was when we were kids. They might not read it in their favorite books, or see it in their favorite t.v. shows, but they are living it.

So I'm glad I've turned into my mom. And I sincerely hope that some day, Miss Tate looks back at her teenage years and is grateful that I was such a pain in the ass about bullying too. She might resent me for it now, but I'm okay with that. And you should be too, because even if they never say thank you, it will be a lesson they pass on to their children some day.



  1. Wow. A very heartfelt post.

    I'm in my mid twenties, and I teach part-time at a high school, so I come into contact with a lot of kids, especially teenagers. I find it hard to believe that I was one of them some 10 years back. This is especially true whenever I get a taste of the level of moral decay these kids are growing up in. I always try and set them straight whenever I can, but it can be a bit overwhelming a times. And sad too.

    I'm an advocate of books being as true-to-life as they can be. So I definitely feel YA books need to accurately depict what these kids go through like you said. This is something I always try and implement in my own writing, and can only hope that I've been able to achieve that much with a certain degree of success, however small.

  2. What a powerful post.

    I was picked on relentlessly all through grade school and high school. No matter what anyone said to make me feel better about being the ________ (insert slew of insults here, generate new ones for tomorrow, rinse and repeat), I felt completely alone.

    Write a book that actually depicts what it's like to be a teenager. I would have loved to have known that someone else was going through what I was, even if it was a character in a book. It would have shown me that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes that's all you need.