An Open Letter to SuperMousey

Dear SuperMousey,

I read this story last night about a girl not much older than you who got royally screwed with by grown-ups on the internet and all night I’ve been thinking about you.  I thought about emailing you about it, but I don’t have kids and sometimes it’s hard for me to judge what’s appropriate for you and what’s not and, since I know you’re not allowed to read Tiny Cat Pants without parental supervision, I decided to write you here so that, if your folks think you should read it, you can.

This is what I want to say to you.  It’s got two parts. 

First, you are embarking on what can be the most difficult time in your life.  It won’t necessarily be.  I don’t want to freak you out unnecessarily.  But you’re so smart and 13-18 seems pretty much designed to make smart, confident, outgoing kids’ lives into weird hells.  Part of this is just life.  Part of it is that, for the first time, you’ll be facing incredibly important challenges and you won’t have anything to judge it against.  Believe me.  Your whole life, you will find you have put your faith in the wrong people.  The first time it happens, it sucks so bad you almost can’t believe a person can go through it and live.  But after a few times, you start to recognize the people that are no good for you long before it gets to the point where they can hurt you.

Do you see what I’m saying?  You’re going to go through a lot of hard, complicated stuff for the first time and it is going to suck.

This time in your life is hard enough when all you have to worry about is keeping up with your school work, keeping your parents off your back, and the other kids at school.

But, and here’s the second thing I wanted to say to you, you also have to deal with the internet.  I know your parents have already probably told you these things, but I just want to share them with you again.

1.  Assume that everyone you encounter online is lying.  The fourteen year old boy you meet on the boards could really be a 40 year old man or the mom of one of your classmates or whoever.  You don’t know and you really have no way of knowing who the people you meet online are.

2.  Don’t do anything to anyone online that you would not want done to yourself.  In the story I linked to up above, the mom originally justified pretending to be a teenage boy in order to learn if the girl who died had been talking bad about the mom’s daughter.  On the surface, that seems almost reasonable, almost harmless, and yet, look how quickly that went wrong and turned into something very evil.

3.  You never know what other people are going through.  No matter how close you are to someone, there’s always going to be stuff going on with them you don’t know about.  So, if you are faced with a choice between being kind to someone and teaching them a lesson, think carefully about whether you can live with the repercussions.  It’s so tempting to teach the people that bug you a lesson about bugging you, but, like I said, you never know what other people are going through.  You have a right to demand that people not treat you like crap; don’t get me wrong.

But there’s a line between standing up for yourself & demanding to be treated in the way you deserve to be treated and teaching the people who don’t treat you right a lesson.

4.  Someday someone you care about is going to screw you over as hard as she can, and, if you’re really unlucky, she’ll use the internet to do it.  It doesn’t matter why.  Like I said, everyone’s got their own stuff going on that you don’t know about and sometimes, in order to feel better about themselves, they will do everything in their power to make you feel small.

There are things you can do to deal with that, but the most important thing you can do is to know for yourself in your own heart who you are and that you are an important and integral part of the world, even if you don’t yet know how.

The world needs you in it or you would not be here.

It’s easy to forget that when you’re going through the ordinary nonsense that people face every day.  It’s even easier to forget that when you find that someone you care about has let you down, deliberately or not.

But it’s the truth.

I know this is on the internet and I know I said that you have to just assume that everyone on the internet is lying.

But believe me in this one case.  You deserve to be here.  Just as you are, right now–you are amazing and you deserve to be here and to have the best life you can make for yourself.

You’re going to face a lot of messages otherwise–that you have to be prettier, thinner, more appealing to boys, less appealing to boys, more of a good girl, smarter, less aggressive, stupider, weak, strong–a lot of contradictory messages that boil down to the same thing, that you have to be very different than you are in order to be good enough to be here.

It’s hard not to believe that there must be some truth to that, but I’m begging you, please believe, right now, that you, just as you are, deserve to be here.  And keep that in your heart so that when the hard stuff comes up and the people you love let you down, you’ll see that it’s no reflection on your worth as a person.  It’s just some difficult stuff you’ve got to get through.

Anyway, I’ve gone on long enough.

Be safe out there.


Aunt B.

13 thoughts on “An Open Letter to SuperMousey

  1. I’m not sure what to say about this, B. I mean, its about all I can do to keep from crying right about now. Weird timing, too, as last night saw a loud and terrible ranting from me directed at the kids about just this type of thing. I am pleased beyond measure that you feel qualified to dispense advice to my children. Its gutsy, and it is difficult to do well. You wrote a beautiful piece, B. Thanks.

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  3. *sniffs* Okay, crying at work? Not the best thing.

    But… that’s beautiful, B. And true.

    I keep thinking about all the different things that have happened to me online, and how different my life would have been if, say, I’d met adults like you guys here instead of the adults I did meet. I never met any of the true predators, thank God, but I did meet someone who really screwed with my head and it still makes me sad. I told SuperMousey about some of it, when her Neopets friend was giving her a hard time (this grownup was the one that introduced me to Neopets, actually)… it startled me to see how similar some of the elements were.

    Some people never really grow up. They can be adults, they can have kids and jobs and look completely respectable, but that doesn’t mean anything. They’ll still be operating with that same playground mentality* – do what you want, and screw anyone who gets in your way. A lot of the time, the rules we have about how to exist are enough to keep them mostly in line; you wouldn’t start heckling someone in line at the bank just because you think their outfit looks dumb, and most people can’t run a hostile takeover on another company just because they think it will make them more popular.

    But that’s not always the case. Sometimes they get in positions of power, and they use it to hurt other people. And power comes in a lot of contexts – it can be money, it can be influence, it can be structural…. you can be the president of a company or the president of the country, and if you think this way, you can turn that power into a club. But it can also be social power, and that’s how you get stuff like this… someone decides that the best way to make themselves feel better, the best way to have a laugh or prove they’re smarter or show off for their friends, is to make someone else feel bad. And, of course, the easiest way to do that is to pick on someone whose buttons they know how to push. Grownups have an advantage there, because they have more experience with the world, and all the awful things that people can do to each other, and because they have real power over kids.

    I.. forgot where I was going with this. But it’s definitely got me thinking.

    * I do rather wish there was a better way to describe this. It raised my hackles when I was a teenager, listening to everyone who did something bad be talked about as “childish,” or instantly written off as “oh, you must be a teenager” when I wasn’t like that, and it never really seemed to be a function of age or anything else. And there’s very little way to lose your teenaged audience than to condescend to them or assume that they’re lesser because of their age.

  4. Speaking of playground behavior and the dangers of the internet, one of the worst things about reading that article was the comments (only a few, but still) that suggested that the name of the offending mother be published explicitly so that her daughter could be harassed in turn.

  5. I was harassed from primary(5/6 year old) through to graduation of HS by one girl in particular. In the heyday of it all when I threatened to quit school in grade 9, the group of tormentors had grown to 8 including one boy. I still hate to be anywhere near any of those people. I shudder to think of what hell my life would have been if they had the internet at their disposal.

  6. I am so glad someone like you is talking to any young folks who could be listening. Additionally, I’m so glad I found your blog a while back so that I got to read this post today. Needed every word of it, personally. xo

  7. Oh, I also meant to say I read the links and cried for that girl and her family. Also on the should have mentioned, I love this letter, B.

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