Warning signs

I was watching TV when Jaylen Fryberg shot his friends and himself at Marysville-Pilchuck High School. Which meant that I spent too much time—shocked, scared, angry—watching the media cover this horrible situation. The story was that the shooter was popular, friendly, and the homecoming prince. His popularity didn’t seem to fit in with the kind of person we usually associate with being a school shooter. The loner. The one who was bullied, unpopular.Marysville-Pilchuck_High_School,_Art_Mural_in_Forum,_October_2009

So I decided to look at his Twitter account (I am not linking to it because of the graphic content) and what I saw there was a very different person than the one portrayed on TV that day. The boy on Twitter was full of rage and sadness which seemed to center around a love interest. Who knew?

His friends had certainly seen these posts. Social media is where young people live. It’s their community. We adults aren’t doing anyone any favors by ignoring this fact and not taking the time to understand it. Social media can offer something positive. An outlet. A place for youth to express themselves.

A few years ago, someone who was hurting and raging and planning to take it out on people at school might have kept a journal that would be found after the fact. Now, we can all see the warning signs in real time as long as we’re looking. I don’t know what happened in this situation. Maybe someone did reach out to him and he wasn’t ready to hear it. Maybe an adult in his life was trying to work with him to get help.

Teens are learning how to navigate intimate relationships, and we don’t give them a lot of help. Jaylen retweeted a post that said “I’m not jealous. But when something’s mine it’s mine.” For those of us who work with survivors of domestic violence, this statement is an enormous red flag. When giving an update on this story, a local news anchor said the words “He was heartbroken.” We’ve all been heartbroken. But framing his actions that way minimizes violent behavior motivated by jealousy and rage.

What if we equip young people and their families with tools to recognize unhealthy relationships and where to get help? My heart breaks for the families of the students hurt and killed in this shooting. I hope it can open doors for more and better dialogue about healthy relationships for teens and what friends and family can do when they notice the warning signs of dating violence.

Out of the binder and into the fire

Photo courtesy of bindersfullofwomen.tumblr.com

I do not think of myself as a competitive person. I mean, I don’t play games where I might win or lose.  Board games and sports are not my thing.

Yet, I’m obsessed with polls, the world-series, and Binders Full of Women.

This year, for the first time, I find myself watching the presidential debates simulcast with social media.  I wonder what my imaginary friends are thinking as we watch from our separate couches. I have two screens going.

Thus, the eruption of sites sporting Binders Full of Women DURING the debate—and the growth of one Facebook site from 32K likes in the middle of the debate to 348K at the time of this writing—leaves me scratching my head.

Clearly, the comments of (mostly) women on these sites express humor—I presume fueled by outrage. I experience the thrill, as a feminist, as I read these comments and get full belly laughs from the creativity and wonderful writing. The reviews of 3-ring binders on Amazon are even funnier than the reviews of Bic for Her.

But.

But! Is all this outpouring of creativity only serving to quell the outrage? Do women and men close up their computers and go out for a beer—slapping their hands together slap-slap “There! I told them.”?

Because if that is true, then putting all this creativity into humor alone is only as politically effective as say, putting butter on the third degree burns of women’s lived experiences.

We cannot simply feel all self-satisfied making snarky comments on social media about the things candidates say about women and thinking we are done. This does not get us women candidates and women in office. Does not get us allies pulling for our liberation. Does not get us reproductive justice. And my personal favorite (this being breast cancer awareness month) does not get us an environment where a whole bunch of us aren’t walking around traumatized by cancer. It does not.

BUT (and this is the last one) I am not calling for the end of snark. By all means, snark away. And then close up your computer and get out there!! Vote and mail your ballot, study the economy so you can tell the truth from a lie, volunteer for a women’s program. Do.

Are my daughters safe online?

As a parent of teenage daughters, I worry that being on the internet itself, and especially Facebook, is leading them to make unwise decisions. Like other parents I know, I said “If you want Facebook, I need the password.” But I often wonder―am I understanding what I read? Do I know what is really going on? And when do I talk to them about what I see? I know my daughters crave their privacy even on Facebook, and don’t want any reminders that I am hovering. I want them to have safe, respectful and positive relationships―everywhere they go―is that too much to ask for?

Dr. Danah Boyd studies how youth use social media. I found her recent article “Cracking Teenagers Online Codes” to be both troubling and reassuring. Using social media in and of itself does not put kids at risk — “Teenagers at risk offline are the same ones who are at risk online.” There is a strong fear of sexual predators online, but the reality is that most sexual abuse involves someone our children know, trust, or love. Issues of bullying, homophobia, teen dating violence, suicide, and substance abuse are around, and we need to talk to our children when we see it on Facebook, Twitter, or anywhere else.

Here is what I found to be most reassuring in the article: “Teenagers absolutely care about privacy . . . like adults, they share things to feel loved, connected and supported . . . teenagers are the same as they always were.” They are using the internet to check out new ideas, see what other kids are thinking about, find someone to relate to. They are trying to relieve the alien teenager feeling. Okay, so even if my daughters’ online lives sometimes feel like a barrier to our connection, I just have to be brave and ask about what concerns me―and keep asking. If I listen with a lot of patience and silence, maybe one or two questions or concerns will slip out, and I will be there ready with love.

.com vs. the boy/girl next door

Remember the first social media site you heard about? Did you sign up? I didn’t. In fact, I assumed that only creepy people socialize through their computer. And now, I’m one of the millions on Facebook.

Remember when you first heard about online dating? Did you sign up? I didn’t. Again, I was filled with assumptions about who would resort to that. And now, some of my closest friends are in a relationship with someone they met online. Still, I think for many of us our internal dialogue goes something like this:

Online dating

 Getting set up through friends

Stalker. Period. Oh, they live just down the street, awesome!
Oh, a techie. Cyber stalker. They are so smart and funny…sigh.
They mentioned sex in their profile. Yikes, I better stay away. They want to get to know me!
They want to fall in love. Creepy. Oh, I’m in love. <3 xoxo

 

We talk a lot about how to be safe when dating online. But why do we assume that meeting someone this way is more risky than when a friend sets us up? Stalkers and abusers aren’t just lurking online―they live amongst our friends as well. That great guy your friend has known for years could be a great friend to her AND end up stalking you.

Poll your friends: have any of them been stalked or abused? Ask them how they met that person. Let me know what you find out.