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Monday, April 15, 2013

Another "NOT"-Not my WORD

“While teen conflict will never go away, networked publics have changed how it operates. “Drama” is a very messy process, full of contradictions and blurred boundaries. But it opens up spaces for teens. As a concept, drama lets teens conceptualize and understand how their social dynamics have changed with the emergence of social media. Technology allows teens to carve out agented identities for themselves even when embroiled in social conflict. And it lets them save face when confronted with adult-defined dynamics, which their peers see as childish and irrelevant.

Understanding how “drama” operates is necessary to recognize teens’ own defenses against the realities of aggression, gossip, and bullying in networked publics. Most teens do not recognize themselves in the “bullying” rhetoric used by parents, teen advocates, and mental health professionals. Even the pop cultural depictions in television shows like Glee feel irrelevant to many teens. They do not want to see themselves as victims or as aggressors, but as mature individuals navigating their world competently.”

an excerpt from the article: The Drama! Teen Conflict, Gossip, and Bullying in Networked Publics by Dr. Alice Marwick and Dr. dana boyd

Whenever I get the opportunity to talk to a teenager, I ask them about their perception and assessment of the bullying in their high school.  Invariably, I get the same response: it is not much of a problem.  I realize that this is dependent upon the status of the student in the school.  And contrary to what the media portrays especially when it comes to cyber bullying, the reality is that most students do not experience bullying.  This response shouldn’t be a surprise but it has always made me scratch my head a bit since all students are bystanders and I figured that most kids would have witnessed bullying on some level.

Reading the complete article by Marwick and boyd helped me understand the response I got from my limited sample of high school students.  Bullying for me was drama for them.  Bullying is a word from the adult world.  It is breaking a rule, a no-no, something mean spirited, done by bad kids, something that the media gets all hyped up about.  At best bullying is something that younger kids, immature kids do that most high school kids have outgrown.  Who could admit to doing such a thing or that such a thing even occurs in their world? 

 To most high school students, bullying is not a reality-it is from another world-not theirs.  It is from a world-the adult world-that they developmentally need to separate from, a world by its very nature that is “out of it”, a world that cannot understand their world.  Too often it is a world that they perceive that is not interested in understanding their world because it is too busy trying to police and control their world. 

Teenagers need to create an “identity” separate from the adult world.  A big part of any separate identity is the developing a new language-one that the world from which they are separating cannot understand.  This is part of the developmental process of leaving the nest so to speak.  Kids can’t continue to depend upon only doing what they are told to do if they are going at some point in their lives become independent from the adult world. 

This is why anyone who has raised a child into adulthood knows how difficult a job it is.  Adults are in a “no-win” situation, because kids almost have to rebel, reject their parents to certain degree in order to establish an identity apart from just being a member of the family or a creation of their parents.  The irony is that this is impossible and kids needs adult guidance and support and cannot function totally independently from adults.  I think there was a book title that said something to like: “Mom I hate you but can you drive me to the mall.”

Wise adults recognize this as a developmental process and accept this inherent paradox that adolescents find themselves in: they can’t live with us or without us.  From my own observations and experience, I believe that the greatest mistake adults can make is to increase the degree of control they exert over adolescents especially when kids push the limits of that control.  The more adults push and exert control the more adolescents with push back and away.  Some will do it overtly and some covertly and some in both ways.  Kids can become very clever in giving adults the surface compliance that they know will satisfy them and then pursue their own agenda. 

What does all of this have to do with bullying prevention?  It means that all of our efforts to control adolescents will only discredit us and push kids away from the ‘wisdom’ that they need from adults in order to navigate the world from teenage years to adulthood.   The more kids see adults as merely people who are trying to tell them what to do, how to do it or just as people who have create a series of hoops for them to jump through, the less they will listen to them. 

This is tragic because one of the benefits of family and community is passing of wisdom from generation to generation.  If kids only take their cues or advice from other kids (those without sufficient life experiences) they are more apt to make not only stupid and avoidable mistakes, but also tragic and harmful ones.  Sadly, the more they feel the need to cut themselves off from adults, the less they will learn from those mistakes because they will deny that they were mistakes. Admitting they were mistakes would be admitting that adults were right and they were wrong-they would be losing their newfound identity.

Ironically the more adults emphasize the dangers of bullying and use scare tactics as a means to control kids the more likely bullying will be denied and labeled as drama by teenagers.  The more adults try to police and criminalize bullying, the more teenagers will refuse to ever admit to doing it.  The more adults try to impose their will upon kids, the more they will turn off any message we try to give. 

Returning to the mining collapse analogy from my previous posting, adults have to accept the fact that kids are in a different world that is separate from the adult world.  Adults need to accept the fact that this world wants and needs to be separate and cannot be expected to conform to the adult world.  This very acknowledgement and understanding of the existence of two worlds is the first step in opening up lifelines of not just communication but crucial and essential resources.

There are many NOTS that make it difficult for bystanders to intervene and report bullying.  The “NOT my word (drama vs. bullying)” is one that requires us to enter into real dialogue with students:  a dialogue where we acknowledge that we don’t speak the same language.  This is an essential first step in learning about each other, respecting each other and learning from each other.  

It is pretty simple, when we realize that kids have a lot to teach us and that we need them, then they will be more likely to be open to learn from us-to let us support them.  When we truly respect them we become trustworthy. They can see us not as people who want to control them but people who love them and truly want to help them.  We, as adults, need to make sure that the true message of love and support doesn’t get overwhelmed and drowned out by our controlling actions borne of our fear of them being out of  our control. 

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