If you work with young people at all, bullying is probably never terribly far from your mind. It is always a Big Deal (especially here in Minnesota). This week it is an even bigger deal. It’s No Name-Calling Week, which began in 2004 inspired by James Howe’s teen novel The Misfits. Since then No Name-Calling Week has grown to a national observance designed to get people (kids & teens in particular) talking about bullying and how to stop it.
I recently read Janet Tashjian’s newest middle grade novel, My Life as a Stuntboy. It’s a bit of a departure for me because I rarely read tween novels and when I do, I usually go for “girl books” over “boy books.” It was a fast, fun read that I expect will have strong appeal to reluctant readers in elementary or middle school. But that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about cyber-bullying.
Two things really interested me about the way cyber-bullying was handled in this book:
- It was between two friends who were fighting. It wasn’t that big mean kid who everyone hates being a jerk to other kids. It was a regular kid who felt hurt by something his friend had done. He retaliated by posting an embarrassing video of his friend on YouTube for everyone to see. According to Stomp Out Bullying, “53% of kids admit having said something mean or hurtful to another person online. More than 1 in 3 have done it more than once.” When we’re talking about bullying, we need to move beyond the idea that it’s everyone else. It’s all of us.
- The victim doesn’t tell his parents about the video because he doesn’t want them to feel bad. Another statistic from Stomp Out Bullying: “58% have not told their parents or an adult about something mean or hurtful that happened to them online.” That’s part of why this week exists. We need to get this stuff out in the open.
In all honesty, this is an example of one of the ways that it can be hard for me to read children’s literature now that I’m a parent. After reading this book, I looked at my little girl, and I saw someone who might keep secrets to spare my feelings. Kidlit does not help my desire to NOT be the mom who obsesses over every little possibility. (Nor does my other main reading material: parenting books.) But it does help me see where she might be coming from in a few years. Of course, I’ve blogged about that before.
My Life as a Stuntboy had a happy ending. The video was removed, the boys made up, and life went back to normal. The characters in the book lived through the experience, and our kids probably will too. I’m not going to start obsessing on a problem before it’s a problem. I’m going to continue to recommend books like My Life as a Stuntboy to kids and their parents in the hopes that they will talk about the story together. I am a firm believer in the idea that books can change the world if we let them change us.