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.