"Bullying is so much worse now than when I was a kid."
"Must be because of the internet and cellphones."
I overhear parking lot conversations like these between parents, and my blood boils a bit. I don't like adult hypocrisy when we talk about teen culture. Yes, gossip and slander are endemic and brutal in high school, but it's no surprise given that our entire culture seems to bond by trash-talking and celebrity-bashing. There's something in us that relishes tearing down as a way to gain power. And that old saw about sticks and stones stinks, because words are so powerful they can make you want to break your own bones.
I'm being asked to emphasize this problem during author visits here in Massachusetts thanks to a recent tragedy in our state and my own experiences in school. In order to stand before students with any measure of integrity, I have to start by searching my own habits: Do I tear someone down—be they celebrity, cousin, or colleague—in my speaking or writing (including tweets, retweets, sharing links, blog posts, and status updates) to get cozy with a crowd or sound "cool"? Even if it's funny. Especially if it's funny.
I'd like to offer a list of good children's and YA novels that reveal the destructive power of gossip and slander. Got suggestions? I'll compile.