News Ian O'Doherty

Friday 29 August 2014

Our Mean Girls (and boys) need to grow up

Published 17/08/2013 | 05:00

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Reality bites: the characters in 'Mean Girls' were horrible to their classmates and got their comeuppance

Proving that they're finks as well as businessmen, the brothers behind Ask.fm have now offered to hand over the IP addresses of eight of the people who were engaged in cyberbullying.

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Finally, we're seeing the little brats who made someone else's life a misery being brought to book, right?

No, actually what we are seeing is a couple of cynical businessmen throwing some kids under the bus to protect their advertising revenue.

And so, these kids, who may or may not have been the worst of the bullies, will be investigated, dragged through the mud and then, in turn, have to run the gamut of internet bullying themselves.

Nobody is going to lose any sleep about a bunch of little madams who think they're in the movie Mean Girls getting a short, sharp dose of reality.

But don't think just because a few kids have been hung out to dry by a website that this problem is going to go away.

Let's finally start to call a spade a spade here.

You can blame the teenage girls if you want for being . . . teenage girls, but there ain't much point in blaming the medium for the message.

There is a simple, if unpalatable, truth that remains stubbornly unacknowledged and it is this – the biggest threat in cyberspace isn't the weird middle-aged pervert who wants to groom your daughter.

It's the girl in her class who keeps telling her she's fat and that Harry Styles will never marry her.

So how have we suddenly produced an entire generation of people so fragile, so psychologically vulnerable and, frankly, so weak that some unpleasant sentiments on a message board can make them kill themselves?

We've made some great strides in recent years when it comes to understanding that some people are more vulnerable and less robust than others, that's true.

But how have we reached the point where so many of them are completely unable to deal with any adversity? Could it be the parents?

Whatever excuse a petulant schoolboy may have for his tantrum at being dropped from the team, what excuse does his pushy dad have for bellowing abuse at the coach?

When someone tells your child online that they are fat and stupid and would be doing the world a favour by killing themselves, does your kid close that webpage and go on to something more agreeable and less distressing? Or do they take the fight back to the bully? Or do they collapse in a fit of the vapours?

And parents, ask yourself this – in all that time you were worried about your child being bullied, did you ever stop to consider that maybe your precious little flower is a bully herself? After all, someone has to be doing it.

I was bullied once when I was in school.

I only mentioned this to my father a few years later because there's nothing lower than a snitch, and he simply responded: "I hope you kicked his head in."

An old hippy, my father was very much of the peace and love and positive vibes school of thought.

But even a hippy, if they're honest, knows that when someone kicks you, you have to kick them back.

Harder.

Such a response might not be politically correct, but I don't remember any kids offing themselves.

This blanket absolution of young people who do stupid things can be seen every time some boy racer ploughs into a wall and kills himself and his mates.

How refreshing would it be to see someone stand up at a funeral of a young person who dies such a stupid, pointless death and say: "This is what they did. This is their fault. They were stupid and now they are dead"?

Instead, we get platitudes. We saw that a few weeks ago in Dublin when a bunch of thugs jacked a taxi and promptly drove into a wall. From the testimonials you'd swear they were boy scouts and not a bunch of thugs who had just threatened to kill a taxi driver.

This was not a tragic case, nor were they tragic deaths, because it only would have been a tragedy if someone innocent had been killed.

As it was, they were simply some criminals who couldn't control a car – nothing to see here, move along. It was their fault, so why aren't people prepared to say that?

Being sensitive to young people's feelings is all well and good, and giving them a healthy sense of self-esteem is certainly better than the way children were virtual slaves in the past.

But when you tell someone that things are never their fault and they can never be blamed for their actions, that way lies madness.

iodoherty@independent.ie

Irish Independent

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