Shy, dorky, pre-teen me was somehow able to befriend the most popular girl in our seventh-grade class. Fantastic! A new friend and a rocket launcher to popularity, right? No, not so much. In reality, my new BFF was a cunning sociopath who schooled me in the ways of deceit, manipulation, tweaked emotional control over another and just plain ol’ meanness.
In a thank-god-I-never-have-to-do-that-again way, I remember this time of my life with disbelief, not only because of the terrible things my friend did to me, but also because of the ways I turned on her. I did things that are really not part of my DNA. I don’t have spite in my bones, but I was spiteful.
Middle school is a confusing time for kids. Maturing so quickly, kids have little understanding of what is going on and very few tools to deal with the gaps between problems, emotions, desires and reality. So much of the angst from being woefully ill-equipped to take part in the more grown-up world kids spy ahead turns into things like bullying, manipulation, exclusion and depression.
Luckily, mean girls in my middle school era were only equipped with land lines, analog writing devices and face-to-face bitchiness. Because of this, whatever happened between my friend and I could only radiate out so far beyond the two of us. Our tweaked dynamics could only amass a certain level of power, yet even then our bad blood so often felt like the end of the world.
After two years, I was free of my crazy friend and learned a whole heck of a lot of lessons from our relationship, including how to stand in who I am and what I believe to hopefully avoid manipulation or being edged into doing things I know to be wrong. In hindsight, I’d like to thank my friend for pushing me into these lessons and more. I am better because of her schooling. But not every victim or perpetrator of nastiness is so lucky, especially today, in the digital age.
If our messed up friendship had existed today, we would have a whole quiver of digital weapons through which to enact our drama and wield our malice. It scares me to think of what would have been different if we had access to powerful tools like Facebook with little or no supervision. But this is reality for a lot of kids, like Rebecca Sedwick, who committed suicide after falling prey to a firing squad of cyber bullying. Here story is so sad, yet it is only one story out of a million. Thankfully, things like this are getting media coverage and attention from schools, parents and law enforcement.
Perhaps if I were a brilliant sociologist or psychologist I could delve into why and how all these things happen and what we, as a society, should do about it. But I am not. I am just a grown-up who was once a middle-schooler and will someday be parenting a middle schooler. So, here I will be, paying close attention, learning what I can and listening to my own lessons learned long ago.