Oh the Shame!!! Teen Cyber Bullying and the Good News
“…encourage one another and build up each other…”
-1 Thessalonians 5:11
“It’s our responsibility to teach young people not to judge anyone else.”
-Dr. Logan Levkoff
ABC News reported that the latest online bullying trend is … confusing. Apparently “teen girls have been posting silly photos of themselves that are then altered to include blunt advice to each other.” One 17 year old told ABC News that “Girls will take raunchy pictures of themselves and after that [other] girls will repost pictures and kind of make fun of them.”
So, teenager girls will post incriminating pictures of themselves on websites, where another person will doctor up the photo with words and images that shame the girl … who posted the incriminating pictures in the first place…
According to the article “Experts say the teasing is a new form of cyber bullying – posted publicly and targeted at specific teens who are well aware that they are being ridiculed.” This new form of bullying has gone viral, with copycat websites emerging that shame teenage girls in similar ways.
“Wait!” You say. “This doesn’t make any sense! Why would anyone post raunchy pictures of themselves knowing full well that they will be ridiculed for it?!?”
Desire is a funny thing, isn’t it? I mean, when it comes to desire, teenage girls are like the rest of us. We desire the objects that others possess. It can be a physical object, like a certain car, but the object can also be non-physical. As in this case, the object is fame. Because of television and the Internet, anyone can quickly become famous. And many adults have become famous by shaming each other on TV. Adults routinely get beat up, incessantly yell at each other on “news programs,” and they eat buffalo testicles. (Seriously. Grown men and women eating buffalo testicles. That’s a certain kind of shame that you just can’t make up.)
Psychologist Dr. Logan Levkoff told ABC News that “It’s our responsibility to teach young people not to judge anyone else.” But, of course, teenagers learn how to judge one another from the expert judgers – adults! I mean let’s be honest, we adults are the greatest of shamers. Not only do we model how to do shame one another on television, we do it in politics, in business, and in our neighborhoods. We are so good at it that most of the time we don’t even realize we’re doing it.
What’s the answer? Christianity says to look at the cross, where Jesus took the place of shame. James Alison describes it like this in his book Undergoing God. When Jesus goes to the cross, he effectively says this:
Yes, yes. I know that you thought you had to do this sort of thing to me in order to get ahead, to survive, to be someone; and guess what, because I knew that these are the only rules of the game that you know how to play, I occupied the place of shame for you so as to show you that even where you are at your worst and most fearful, I like you and I want to play with you a different game. Now where shall we take it? (110)
Jesus invites us to play a new game, where we no longer have to shame or be shamed to find fulfillment. Rather, the new game is one that builds one another up in the spirit of love, as opposed to tearing another, or yourself, down in the spirit of shame.
The same ABC article reports some good news, though. Some teenage girls are playing the new game by lifting one another up with different rules. In this game, girls are still sending in pictures of themselves, but instead of shaming one another, they are supporting one another with messages like, “You are perfect … just the way you are…” and “hey girls…did you know that…ummm…you’re all beautiful?”
This 33 year old man finds those messages a bit cheesy. And maybe you do, too. But anytime teenage girls change the rules of the game from shame to encouragement, I think we adults should listen closely.