Friday, January 20, 2012

Let's Talk About Online Bullying

One day at school not long ago, my seven-year-old daughter told some people that her "mommy is being bullied on the computer."

My daughter is in the second grade. She goes to an elementary school with a strict no-bullying policy, a place where respect for others, kindness, and the use of appropriate words are discussed on a regular basis and are part of the school's mission statement and motto. Calling names is not acceptable at her school. Spreading malicious lies about others is not acceptable. Speaking in a hateful or derogatory tone, denigrating others' work, and impugning someone else's character is not acceptable. In fact, all these things are bullying behavior.

The adults at my daughters' school present these rules to the children there; they provide a guidebook for behavior, they post signs in the halls, they have discussions in the classrooms about the unacceptability of all the things that fall under the heading of "bullying." My daughter and her schoolmates look up to the adults they know as examples for how to behave with respect for each other in this world.

Imagine how confusing and upsetting it is for her to know that, in the mysterious world of "grown-ups on the computer," her writer mama is being bullied. What must little kids think of such a thing?

So, online bullying, right? Wow. What in the world?

A long time ago I thought it might be a good idea to write a book for moms who had decided to be at-home moms, discussing our common joys and struggles, and providing professional insight into ways we can all manage stress, our crazy moods, and life-work-family obligations, a little bit better. I'm a psychologist, see, so I've helped plenty of clients over the years tackle those very issues. And I'm a mom, so I totally get what you're saying when you say that yes you love your kids more than life itself, but yes you also sometimes count down the minutes until naptime or bed.

I wasn't interested in comparing at-home moms to working moms to see who's better. What kind of a question is that? It's ridiculous. I wasn't interested in "the mommy wars" (even though other people sometimes seemed intent on dragging me into their own private battles). All I knew was that I loved being a stay-at-home mom but sometimes hated parts of it, I was human and imperfect and certainly no supermom, and my favorite, most admired and adored people in the whole world included both moms who stayed home like me, and moms who rocked the professional-working-mom gig like nobody's business.

I wrote the book for the at-home moms I knew (and the ones I don't know). I combined personal experience, self-deprecating humor, and real clinical strategies for being healthy and happy. I thought it was pretty much the most uncontroversial material anyone could write.

And then my publisher and I titled it The Essential Stay-at-Home Mom Manual: How to Have a Wondrous Life Amidst Kids and Chaos, and certain nameless faceless individuals out there in the ether apparently got really, REALLY offended. And started sending me bullying anonymous blog comments. And leaving slanderous, bullying "reviews."

Why do we do this, people? What drives someone to anonymously bully a stranger on the Internet? What's going on inside a person, when he or she does that? It's an interesting topic, to a clinical psychologist like me, and to many others, too.

Maybe by now you've read Meghan Daum's recent essay on modern-day hater "commenting culture." (And if not, you really should; it's fascinating.) She really goes deep into exploring this relatively new phenomenon, where anyone, anywhere, can say anything--whether they're educated about the topic or not, whether they're raving lunatic bullies or not--and there it is, published online, with a life of its own. You see, back in the day, the only people who reviewed books, and published those words of review, were....get reviewers. You know, educated literary professionals who had read the book and provided thoughtful analysis about its strengths and weaknesses? Rather than random anonymous bullies calling the writer a phony, eating-disordered plagiarist? Hmmm. That latter situation sounds an awful lot like slander, to me. I'm really glad that commenters' IP addresses are recorded for all posterity and available for investigation when such comments are posted.

So, what do we tell our children, when adults--ADULTS!--engage in bullying behavior "on the computer"? How do we explain why a grown-up would do such a crazy, unreasonable thing?

You tell me. Because I've got a seven-year-old waiting for an answer.

This photo is from over a year ago. But I just thought it was super cute.


Mnmom said...

You tell her that, as a professional psychologist, you know that some people just really have trouble with relationships and/or mental illness. It's 99% likely this person has a personality disorder. That's the only explanation I can think of.

But for you, it must feel so very personal. This book is like you 3rd child. And now some stranger is pointing at your new baby and screaming "UGLY"!!

But you know, deep inside, that it's not true. The problem is all inside them. Remember my blog comments after our economic collapse? Remember how unfair and twisted that person was? And they didn't know me at all.

You are a delightful person, a lovely Mommy, and a dear friend. Your troll is a troubled soul.

Anonymous said...

I just started reading your book about an hour ago. I took a break to find your blog. I am so sad to see this post that you are being bullied. Obviously these people have never done this job...I have been at home since April 2009 and I still haven't figured it out! I think maybe there is some jealousy from these individuals because they do not have the option. So far I think you did a great thing by writting this's women like you who help me remember I am not alone. I am not the only one trying to find balance. This is the hardest job I have ever had! And this week has been particulary hard for some reason. Anyway, thank you for writting this book!

Shannon said...

@Mnmom: I DO remember the comments you got on your blog way back then. You handled it like a champ! I don't mind the comments denigrating my book itself nearly as much as I mind the ones that attack my personal character, mental health, or professional competence. Those remarks have the potential to damage my professional reputation, and take the act from merely silly (like the comments from people who have not read the book) to something much more serious.

Oh, and to Anonymous above--thank you so much! It's nice to get an anonymous comment that isn't ripping me to shreds! :)

Heidi Mann said...

It absolutely IS possible to fully love your kids AND count down the minutes until bedtime or the time when Daddy will come home and offer you some reprieve! I've lived it -- and, doubtless, so has every other SAHM (and most of the honest working-outside-the-home moms as well). But honesty really scares some people, and I think that's part of what you're dealing with on the B&N page.

I would urge "Anonymous" above to please go to the B&N page and add your own positive review (if you haven't already), and Shannon, trust that people like "Anonymous," who can truly appreciate and benefit from your book, WILL continue to find it. It will land in the right hands, and that's the most important thing.

I also think, though I as a combo working/at-home mom found the book very useful, perhaps the troll reviewer needs to take the title a bit more literally: If she is NOT a SAHM and is having "issues" with your book, maybe she needs to notice that the title indicates the book is not even *intended* for her!!! Ha ha!!! It says "Stay-at-Home Mom Manual"! GET IT?? If you're not a SAHM and not sympathetic to SAHMs, DON'T READ IT, but also, DON'T PREJUDICE OTHER PEOPLE AGAINST GAINING SOME GOOD FROM IT BECAUSE THAT IS NOT YOUR RIGHT TO DO!