Maria’s Musings & Advice: Online Harassment

hands-typing-7Dear Maria,

I’m wondering if you have suggestions for helping your teenager handle online harassment from peers. My high school-aged kid has a former friend who regularly posts things about her on various social media sites. Sometimes it’s direct, using my teen’s name, making negative comments about her, and encouraging others to do the same. Sometimes it’s thinly-veiled, stuff that someone else may not know is about my kid, but she knows and their peers know. Regardless, it all hurts and is doing serious damage to my teen’s confidence and social life. It’s hard for my daughter to defend herself online because anything she writes in response gets shot down by this kid and their peers. As parents we can see that over the long run, the kid who is harassing our teen is on a path for self-destruction, but in the short-term we don’t know how to best support our kid.

Thanks in advance for any suggestions you have.

Signed,

Mom Who Wants to Support and Empower Her Teen Against Online Harassment

Dear Mom,

Remember, back in the day, when the circles of people our children interacted with were small? When they were little, we could easily connect the dots to who-said-what, and call on other adults (teachers, troop leaders, sitters) to help with hurtful situations. Now, teens interact on so many different platforms. The connections can be amazing, and damaging. It makes my head spin. Here are a few hard-learned insights of mine, and the wisdom and guidance of Tavi Gevinson, speaker, actress, and founder of Rookie magazine.

Tavi shares your signature sentiments, but she’s 20 years old! She’s a cultural critic and feminist advocate who’s smart, savvy, and stylish. Here’s sage advice in a Rookie magazine article on gossip. Two takeaways: One, in many cases, the gossip is best confronted in a social media-free exchange. Believe it or not, when the telephone was first invented, critics feared it would lead to the decline of civil conversation, due to the loss of face-to-face interaction. They had a point. Today, I wish teens would use the phone, not just texting or online forums, to clear the air. Two, with malicious gossip (page 4 of the Rookie article), the author suggests not reacting to the gossiper, and enlisting the help of an interlocutor, if possible. My daughter has survived a few rounds of online gossip and lies. In two cases, my husband and I called the parents of the gossiping child. It stopped immediately. In another case, school administrators intervened and counseled the students involved to dial down the drama and call a truce. Our daughter resisted the help, at first. We let her handle things on her own, until it became clear that intervention was necessary. (She was relieved when we did.) You’ll know when the time is right to step in. Plus, it’s an opportunity to model for your daughter how to take a calm stand in an escalating situation. With my maternal super audio and visual powers, I can tell there have been other instances that she hasn’t let us in on. I trust she’s handling it as best she can, and learning along the way. (Additional resources can be found through the National Center for Victims of Crime website.)

wpid-IMAG0722.jpgIt’s painful to see our children suffering. I wish I could download all my life lessons to my daughters. But, they’ve taught me that they learn best through their own experiences. What we can do is model what real friendship and love looks like, especially while they are hurting. We can listen and comfort, and shore up their strength as their own, best advocate. It’s okay to be hurt, but not to succumb to anonymous potshots. Their true self is not the broken person their critics portray them to be. For every person who doesn’t appreciate them, there are dozens who do. As moms, we’re in a key position to reflect to our children their innate goodness and worth. When I praise my daughter, she shrugs it off with, “You have to say that—you’re my mom.” But I’ll keep on praising, trusting that I’m contributing to a reserve of inner strength that will come in handy throughout her life.

In the midst of their hurt, let’s give them space, but not let them become isolated. Teens want to be left alone, but sometimes I think it’s a test to see how hard we’re willing to work to get to them. They’re worth the effort, and to be loved by people who are proud to do so. Our homes can be a haven where feelings are safe and they feel loved and accepted.

Learning to take the long view is part of adult-ing. Continue to counsel your daughter to keep her eyes on the horizon, all while offering Kleenex and hugs. Be with her while she’s hurting, but lift her gaze to the healing. Share, where appropriate, your own experiences. She may shrug it off as, “Well, that’s the way it was for you, but it’s different for me.” Still, you stand in testimony to the fact that a person can and will survive mean gossip, and emerge a better person. Our challenge and charge as mothers is to nurture our children into capable, confident adults who live with integrity. Unfortunately, that formation includes painful experiences. Check out Tavi’s powerful TED talk for guidance on self-image, and empowering young women to make their own decisions:

Thank you so much for your letter; I’m in solidarity with you, and welcome our readers’ comments. Moms, what do you suggest? What works to help your child with online harassment?

Dear Readers,

In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. I look forward to hearing from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.

Maria’s Musings & Advice: Mean Teens Online; True Beauty

Dear Maria,

I’m wondering if you have suggestions for helping your teenager handle online harassment from peers. My high school-aged kid has a former friend who regularly posts things about her on various social media sites. Sometimes it’s direct, using my teen’s name, making negative comments about her, and encouraging others to do the same. Sometimes it’s thinly-veiled, stuff that someone else may not know is about my kid, but she knows and their peers know. Regardless, it all hurts and is doing serious damage to my teen’s confidence and social life. It’s hard for my daughter to defend herself online because anything she writes in response gets shot down by this kid and their peers. As parents we can see that over the long run, the kid who is harassing our teen is on a path for self-destruction, but in the short-term we don’t know how to best support our kid.

Thanks in advance for any suggestions you have.

Signed,

Mom Who Wants to Support and Empower Her Teen Against Online Harassment

Dear Mom,

Remember, back in the day, when the circles of people our children interacted with were small? When they were little, we could easily connect the dots to who-said-what, and call on other adults (teachers, troop leaders, sitters) to help with hurtful situations. Now, teens interact on so many different platforms. The connections can be amazing, and damaging. It makes my head spin. Here are a few hard-learned insights of mine, and the wisdom and guidance of Tavi Gevinson, speaker, actress, and founder of Rookie magazine.

Tavi shares your signature sentiments, but she’s 20 years old! She’s a cultural critic and feminist advocate who’s smart, savvy, and stylish. Here’s sage advice in a Rookie magazine article on gossip. Two takeaways: One, in many cases, the gossip is best confronted in a social media-free exchange. Believe it or not, when the telephone was first invented, critics feared it would lead to the decline of civil conversation, due to the loss of face-to-face interaction. They had a point. Today, I wish teens would use the phone, not just texting or online forums, to clear the air. Two, with malicious gossip (page 4 of the Rookie article), the author suggests not reacting to the gossiper, and enlisting the help of an interlocutor, if possible. My daughter has survived a few rounds of online gossip and lies. In two cases, my husband and I called the parents of the gossiping child. It stopped immediately. In another case, school administrators intervened and counseled the students involved to dial down the drama and call a truce. Our daughter resisted the help, at first. We let her handle things on her own, until it became clear that intervention was necessary. (She was relieved when we did.) You’ll know when the time is right to step in. Plus, it’s an opportunity to model for your daughter how to take a calm stand in an escalating situation. With my maternal super audio and visual powers, I can tell there have been other instances that she hasn’t let us in on. I trust she’s handling it as best she can, and learning along the way. (Additional resources can be found through the National Center for Victims of Crime website.)

It’s painful to see our children suffering. I wish I could download all my life lessons to my daughters. But, they’ve taught me that they learn best through their own experiences. What we can do is model what real friendship and love looks like, especially while they are hurting. We can listen and comfort, and shore up their strength as their own, best advocate. It’s okay to be hurt, but not to succumb to anonymous potshots. Their true self is not the broken person their critics portray them to be. For every person who doesn’t appreciate them, there are dozens who do. As moms, we’re in a key position to reflect to our children their innate goodness and worth. When I praise my daughter, she shrugs it off with, “You have to say that—you’re my mom.” But I’ll keep on praising, trusting that I’m contributing to a reserve of inner strength that will come in handy throughout her life.

wpid-IMAG0722.jpgIn the midst of their hurt, let’s give them space, but not let them become isolated. Teens want to be left alone, but sometimes I think it’s a test to see how hard we’re willing to work to get to them. They’re worth the effort, and to be loved by people who are proud to do so. Our homes can be a haven where feelings are safe and they feel loved and accepted.

Learning to take the long view is part of adult-ing. Continue to counsel your daughter to keep her eyes on the horizon, all while offering Kleenex and hugs. Be with her while she’s hurting, but lift her gaze to the healing. Share, where appropriate, your own experiences. She may shrug it off as, “Well, that’s the way it was for you, but it’s different for me.” Still, you stand in testimony to the fact that a person can and will survive mean gossip, and emerge a better person. Our challenge and charge as mothers is to nurture our children into capable, confident adults who live with integrity. Unfortunately, that formation includes painful experiences. Check out Tavi’s powerful TED talk for guidance on self-image, and empowering young women to make their own decisions:

Thank you so much for your letter; I’m in solidarity with you, and welcome our readers’ comments. Moms, what do you suggest? What works to help your child with online harassment?

 

Beautiful, Just the Way You Are

Beauty and self-image were the themes of my keynote presentation at The Family Center’s annual luncheon. Thanks go out to my dear friend and colleague Lindsay Henry for her beautiful reflection, “Perspective of a Mirror”, and to Tavi Gevison, who implores us to “just be Stevie Nicks.” Listen in!

 

Dear Readers,

In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. I look forward to hearing from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.

In Defense of Wearing an R2D2 dress to Homecoming

My daughter texted me from her homecoming shopping expedition at the mall:

“It’s hard not to buy all the Star Wars stuff,” she wrote.

“I bet,” I replied. “How about a Leia dress?” I asked, with a wink.

“Right, mom.” I could hear her sigh.

Later that day, I spotted the R2D2 dress hanging on her door. “No way!” I said.

“Really!” she said, her face beaming. “Why should I spend all that money on a dress I’ll wear once to a dance at school?” She followed her Jedi heart on that one. But her decision at the mall would prove to create a disturbance in The Force of homecoming.

Around here, the high school homecoming dress code calls for a suit for boys and a cocktail-style dress for girls. My daughter’s dress is more casual. It’s not a “sexy R2D2” costume; it’s a cute, cotton, above-the-knee sleeveless number with the droid’s design.

The biggest push-back against her decision has come not from me, her father, nor her boyfriend (a fellow Star Wars fanatic), but from the girls.

Not long after her purchase, the evening’s plans started to shift. The circle going to the dance expanded. The wider it became, the less she and her date wanted to go. Then the real reason for the changes came out – the girls didn’t like her dress, and were edging her out of the group. The boys liked the idea, and maybe that’s what bugged the girls. Will their dates wish they were in an R2D2 dress, too? Or will her novelty dress draw focus from their own versions of one-of-a-kind?

New R2D2 shot

My daughter has taken a few direct and secondhand hits from the girls for this fashion choice. Her intuition tells her to resist the pressure. The money needed for a typical homecoming dress would take her weeks to earn at her part-time job. She’d rather save for Star Wars VII, for that trip to Italy with her Latin class next summer, and for other purchases that reflect her ever-deepening sense of self.

These kids live in a confusing time. Social media and creative expression encourage individuality — “be yourself,” they say, to succeed. Yet, dress codes and standardized tests tell them there’s an elusive “model teen” out there whom they need to emulate. They work so hard to fit in, but if they express themselves too much, they’re shamed and gossiped out of the group. Word got back to my daughter that she was “ruining homecoming” for at least one person. Really? Does she have that much power (dare I say, Force?) to ruin anyone’s night by her sartorial choice?

No matter. Everyone will get the evening they wanted. Neither my daughter nor her boyfriend were much into homecoming, anyway. They’ll take some photos, have dinner out with a different set of friends, skip the dance at the gym, and head to his house for a party. I’m sure light sabers will factor into the festivities.

Tomorrow we shop for silver flats. Even R2D2 must accessorize.

View this post on the Huffington Post website, and add your comments to the conversation!

The Unspoken Thoughts of Mothers

Last week, I took a highly random survey of moms on Facebook. I asked each mom to tell me one thing she wishes she could tell her family, but chooses not to share. Scripture says Mary held many things about Jesus in her heart. I wanted moms to tell me: “What do you hold in yours?”

Read their thoughtful and funny responses in my column at the St. Louis Globe-Democrat online.

What are the unspoken thoughts you hold in your heart?

Please stop me

Since last Saturday, I’ve told all who will listen:  “If I ever tell you I want to hold a garage sale again, please slap me.”  Many have commiserated with me, saying garage sales are lots of hot work and long hours for very little monetary return.  Others mentioned how they hated seeing people pick through their stuff, even though they’d decided to let it go.  And, you need a charity pick-up to take away what’s left over….so why not skip the middle step and just give it all away?  Think abundantly and pay it forward!

What I most disliked about the garage sale experience, though, is the person I became during the experience.  Mired in the clutter, dust and sweat, my thoughts were often ones of resentment for how hard I was working, or of exhaustion at the weight of the accumulated stuff.  This mindset and fatigue translated into one mean and crabby mom.  Both my daughters experienced it.  If they asked me for anything during those days, my response was a heavy sigh, and anger when the request took me away from my project.  Many times I was so preoccupied my youngest gave up talking to me.  At the end of each day, both my body and my heart ached.  I not only separated myself from things that I was emotionally attached to, but more importantly I’d alienated myself from the ones I love who also share this space with me.

My teenage daughter called me on it this week, saying that if I really didn’t want to do something for her, I should just not do it, rather than doing it in anger and being mean while doing it.  She’s right.  I was angry and mean.  I apologized, and asked her to stop me if I ever even thing about another garage sale.  We laughed.  For all the growing up I witness in her, she gets to see her mom do some, too.

Momma Drama

My teenage daughter struggled through intense drama this week.  “Drama” is the term, I’ve learned, to describe the episodes of social turbulence that adolescents and high schoolers endure as they work their way toward graduation and adult life.  Unfortunately, some adults I’ve encountered are still stuck in this dramatic style of interacting…but that’s another conversation!

My thoughts today are with my daughter and how relieved I am that this current drama has reached its conclusion and amends have been made with her friend.  During the storm, I was fortunate to have my daughter share some of her feelings and struggles with me.  Through it all, I vacilated between wanting to fix the situation for her and letting her work it out on her own.  I’ve learned that I am most helpful to her, and make the strongest connection with her, when I simply listen and relate to her feelings, rather than telling her how to fix it or charging in to do the fixing myself.  She can figure out the right thing to do; she just needs help to get through the feelings and see her way to that right thing.  And, she needs to know I have confidence in her to do just that.

Last night at dinner, it was clear she was at peace through her kind interactions with her younger sister and her joining in to laugh with us around the table.  My own heart was relieved, too.  There’s a quote on another page of this blog from Elizabeth Stone that says being a mom is like having “your heart go walking around outside your body.”  I had shared, vicariously, in her pain.  Then, as the drama cloud lifted, we both experienced the blessed lightness of reconciliation and release.