When I wrote my young adult novel Dregs, I’d witnessed a lot of bullying in my school and in my classroom. Some of it blatant, but much more of it subtle, part of an invisible hierarchy. School violence stormed into our world as a full-blown epidemic in the mid-90s. We were horrified. We were disgusted. We were to blame – no other nation has our issues with bullying, with cliques, with the kind of violence seen on the front page of every paper nearly every day. And now, all of that has changed with the internet. Bullying has morphed; it’s virtual, transported through cyberspace. But it still hurts, and for some, it has a lasting, stinging effect. Sometimes permanent. Being a teenager or young adult is hard, and the light at the end of the tunnel is sometimes too hard to see. Tyler Clementi couldn’t see it. Phoebe Prince couldn’t see it. Alexis Pilkington couldn’t see it. Even with the rallying cries of Ellen, their suicides make us question the system, the neighborhoods that perpetuate it, the sports fields that promote it, the schools that can’t or don’t stop it, the internet that hasn’t figured out how to control the cruelty created there.
But it starts so much sooner – the judgmental entitlement, the superiority mentality. A perfect example is a blog in the Advocate. Parents instill their best values in their children. And their worst. The problem is, these belief systems are so deeply entrenched, many of the parents don’t understand what they’re doing. Don’t play with the child of gay parents. Stay away from that Muslim kid. No, you can’t go to the mall with that girl with all the piercings. Hate begats hate. Prejudice starts young, before they have a chance to develop beliefs of their own. So when kids start taunting kids, parents’ mindsets are screaming accompaniment. The worry is, can we silence them, any of them?