I keep thinking about this young man, a typical teenager, 15-years-old, 16 maybe. He sat in a group with the rest of his peers at a local Saturday night high school basketball game.
“You might want to move over a bit,” we were warned. “The kids sit here. It gets pretty loud.”
I wasn’t afraid. I was a kid once, too. Sometimes I wonder how I’m an adult with two kids of my own. I’m certain I was just 15. I remember it well. I bet you do also.
But it’s different now. I look at these kids and I see my own kids and their friends in just a few short years. I think of their parents and the struggles and joys of raising a teenager.
I know my time is coming. I’m already prepping my heart.
I heard these guys laughing and cheering for the girls’ basketball team. Most of it made me smile. Teenage boys will be teenage boys, of course. They look like babies to me, someone’s little boy.
Yes, times have changed a lot.
But then I heard the mood change. The comments were directed at a young woman on the opposing team. She was near the sidelines with the basketball, near this group of boys. Some were whispering, but one yelled.
“What’s on your face?” was the first taunt. She had a bandage on the left side of her cheek. And then they made a comment about her weight. The comment was too cruel to mention. But what made my mind race was the action one boy took. He snapped a photo of her with his cell phone.
I wanted to scream.
Don’t do that! Don’t you understand what you’re doing to that girl? Don’t you realize that it’s tough enough to be a teenager in a large high school just trying to figure out life? What’s wrong with this world? What will you do with that photo? Show it to your friends? Post it online for the world to laugh?
I was angry. I’m still angry.
My 7-year-old heard it, too. I took the moment to explain to her why we don’t speak those words to people and how we’re supposed to be kind, not rude.
“I know, mom. I would never do that,” she said.
But here’s where the truth comes in. I’m fairly certain at age 7, that boy didn’t think he would be a bully, either. But somehow we grow up and our teenage years are filled with this desire to fit in. We’ll do almost anything to fit that standard; drinking, sex, drugs, cheating, lying and being a bully.
We all know it happens. Perhaps it happened to you. And that fact — well, that fact terrifies me.
I can’t stop thinking about that boy. I wish I would have said something, anything at all. I wish I would have looked him in the eyes with empathy, not anger, and begged him to think about his choices.
“Please don’t do that,” that’s all I needed to say. “Please, don’t do that.”
Instead I said nothing at all.
I don’t have a feel good ending this week and I certainly don’t have the answers to teenage bullying or adult bullying either. But I do know that a smile and kindness are so much better than anger. Let’s work on spreading that to our kids and our friends and even our enemies.
And I do believe we need to say something. Speak up and reach out with kindness. Don’t stay silent.
Next time, I promise to speak.