The other day, my eleven year old came home with the school-set task of writing a speech on cyber bullying. One of the benefits of being slightly skilled with words is that one’s children deem it useful to have one read over their work; and this has the added benefit of me being very up to date on what they’re studying at school.
I was startled that at eleven, she had been shown a video of a girl who had ended her life due to cyber bullying. I was already formulating my complaint to the school, deciding which teacher to take it to first etc etc. And then, as the discussion went on, I realised how thankful I was that she had been given this assignment. It had paved the way for a great conversation on cyber bullying, its effects and sometimes tragic consequences.
It’s scary to talk about these issues; issues like suicide, self-harm, depression, eating and anxiety disorders. They make us afraid; as though talking about them and acknowledging their existence will somehow beckon them to our door. Sure, we all know in our heads that talking about these issues actually reduces the chances, but in our hearts, it’s still scary.
It’s confronting to hear these words coming out of my barely pubescent daughter’s mouth. And part of it, actually, nearly all of it, is that I don’t want her to see this ugly, awful, nasty side of life – of people. I don’t want her to be confronted with the cruelty that is cyber bullying and the devastating ramifications of it all. I want her to still believe that bad things don’t happen to good people, that “it will never happen to me” can be true, that if we just all try hard enough to get along, peace will reign. And I want to believe those things too. Oh, how desperately I want to believe them.
By the end of the conversation, we had talked about the reasons why bullies bully, why it effects some people more than others, and, importantly, what to do and how to feel if it ever happens to her. We talked about what to do if we see someone being bullied. We talked about social media, its dangers and its benefits. We talked about when to believe what someone is saying to you or about you. We talked about who to believe and who not to believe. We talked about remembering that God made us and that His opinion is the only one that matters. We talked about how hard it is to remember that sometimes. We talked. And we talked.
What started out as a conversation about an assignment, became one of the most important conversations we will have.
And the real kicker at the end?
“I love talking to you, Mum. Especially about things like this that really matter.”
Some conversations are hard to have; have them anyway.