What’s The Meanest Thing Anyone’s Ever Said To You?
Think about it.
I ask this question of my young Art of Peace Club girls – as well as my adult female friends and colleagues, and with zero hesitation they (the young and the not so young) can collectively and instantly rattle off laundry lists of past injustices and nasty missives verbatim; instances where they’ve been wronged, slighted, poked at, dissed. And worse.
Landscapes of Mean & Hurtful words and behaviors become darkly painted emotional canvases of sticky, tricky, interpersonal woe. Whatever was said and whenever the trauma occurred (even for those of us who are not, ahem, thirteen anymore), we sure can remember the negative and upsetting feelings that were stirred up. The powerlessness. Like it was yesterday. And it might just have been: there are no statutes of limitation on hurting or being hurt. Our ‘armor’ may become more solid with age and experience, but emotional pain is emotional pain, and it still has the power to keep us up at night.
Now: put yourself back in Junior High, and imagine reading…
"Have you seen Sally? Nice Pants."
One of my girls showed me this text and I asked her what she thought about it. She shrugged and asked me what I thought. Well, without context—not even a random emoticon smiley/frown-y face that passes for tone and intention these cyber-days, there are only two possible meanings:
"Hey wow awesome pants, Sally looks great!"
Or, it could easily mean the way more troubling:
"Sally looks like a cow/has no fashion sense/woof etc."
Way more troubling, you see, in that it was Sally herself who showed this to me, tears welling in her eyes. For whatever reason, on purpose or NOT on purpose, she’d ‘somehow’ been cc’d into this online thread.
And so: was it a compliment? Or was it incoming fire?
Without a direct, verbal conversation (read: a possible confrontation) with the sender and the necessary courage that it takes to gear up to do so, Sally wouldn’t know. These skills of courage, resiliency, and empathy are what we practice in The Art of Peace Club.
Some food for thought, according to a recent Nielsen Study:
Kids 0 – 12 send and receive over 1178 texts a month, that’s 60 texts a day.
Teens 13 – 17 send and receive over 3600 texts a month, that’s over 100 a day!
What are they saying in all of those texts?
Beyond the ‘hey/what’s going on/nothing’ exchanges, which accounts for much, only one or three of these texts are for sure in the vein of, “Hi Mom, I’ll be out in five minutes.” More likely, as the tween years hit, the texts (read: potential daggers) are in the vein of “Have you seen Sally? Nice Pants.”
In my day, we had the standard cliques and rumor-mill grapevine. The big threat was the dreaded nightly phone chain method of passing along hurt, complete with a three-way calling option (and that awful possibility that one party stayed silent as you opined or overshared about this one or that), and some very real emotional and psychic damage was inflicted. Now, the arsenals of weaponry are unlimited and accessible 24/7—as are our children, who live in the midst of a culture that is snark- and irony-infested. And, as reflected in the media (and so mirrored by our children), our culture seemingly rewards unkind and provocative behavior at every turn.
Emotional Safety is as Important as Physical Safety
Have an open conversation with your child about digital literacy and responsibility, and make sure you’re up to speed as well. The conversation could go something like this:
*What is the difference between facebook and Instagram?
*What kinds of things are your friends posting?
*What’s been the funniest thing, what’s the most awful thing you’ve seen?
*In his/her opinion, are other people’s online ‘personas’ the same as in ‘real life’?
*How so/how not, and why does he/she think so?
*Has he or she ever been confused/alarmed/concerned/afraid/diminished by an Instagram or facebook post or thread?
*What are some examples?
*How did he/she respond, could he/she have responded better?
*What were the consequences? What should have been the consequence?
I do these ‘emotional fitness’ exercises with my Art of Peace girls, and some fantastic discussions have ensued. The most important thing to remember and convey is that
Words can hurt, but words can heal too.
About the Author
Over the past 3 years, Author, Education Activist, & Art of War expert Jodi Wing (The Art of Social War/HarperCollins) has created & evolved The Art of Peace Doctrine & ‘Club’ curriculum within Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) & LA’s BEST after-school enrichment program, teaching girls aged 7 – 15 ‘how to’ manage social conflict & competition while exercising emotional fitness & safety to make winning choices.