Memo to Myself: Thoughts for Good Parenting & Symbolic Interactionalism

The Megan Meiers story broke loose. apophenia provided a synopsis of the situation:

For those who are not familiar with the Megan Meier story, let me create a brief overview of what has been commonly covered in the press. Megan (13, St. Louis) had a MySpace profile when a cute boy "Josh" (16) begins courting her. All is well until Josh breaks up with her online by sending cruel messages about how she hurts her friends, is fat and a slut, and "the world would be a better place without you." Shortly after reading this, Megan commits suicide. Josh turns out to be a fake profile created by Lori Drew, the mother of one of Megan's former friends. Police investigate, no charges are filed.
Then apparently, Lori Drew (aka, "Josh Evans") wrote a blog entry in an attempt to explain (and to justify) her actions. Yeah, I'm not sure about any of this. By no means am I an authority on these social matters. I'm simply an individual living in interaction within the larger social institution. I suppose that makes me as qualified as the next senseless blogger to comment on this case.

The "Megan Had It Coming: I'm Lori Drew" blog is an interesting caricature of what is wrong with people in the world today. It is also home to (surprisingly) few gems of wisdom. These two statements (in my mind) includes both of what is written by a blogger and by the commentators. I have to wonder, is it really Lori Drew? Maybe, maybe not. Regardless, being the Symbolic Interactionist that I am, I cannot separate myself from my perspective of "reality," but I can certainly agree that there are different perspectives at work in this situation. I don't care much about the story itself (who is "right" or "wrong"). I'm interested in the dialog that is going on between said blogger and 2500+ commentators.

It's exactly as apophenia posted earlier:

Mediated environment throw these forces for a loop. I can say anything I want here and you can't punch me. At least not while you're sitting on your computer reading this. And I have a reasonable expectation that your potential anger will dissipate before you see me again. Furthermore, this fear of bodily harm is very ephemeral - we are much worse about evaluating whether or not an act will result in _future_ bodily harm than determining if it will result in immediate harm. The lack of immediate harm is key here.

The bigger issue has to do with social consequences. I have no way of determining if you're nodding along or scrunching your face in disgust and violent disagreement. I have to imagine your reaction as I write this (and I'm imagining the nods). I have no way of adjusting the next paragraph according to your implicit responses while reading this paragraph, both because I can't see you and because you're reading this in a time-shifted manner. Furthermore, unless you explicitly provide feedback (like comments), I have no real understanding that you're out there let alone what you thought of my post. The lack of social feedback sucks, but the lack of immediate social consequences can be far more dangerous.

We're allowed (and even encouraged) to spout off, assuming others will agree with us. And if they don't, well ... who cares, right? Only, that's not really true. I think we do care, or at least to some extent we need to care and to be cared about. How else do we integrate into the social fabric?

On a more personal level (for the sake of all mankind and humanity), upon reading the blog post and a smattering of comments, I find myself feeling rather disappointed. To be short, it would be nice if there were less "haters" and I could find more enlightened reflections in the 2500+ comments. There's a lot of "talk," but not a lot of meaningful thought behind most of the words. The blogger and commentators are mostly emotional gunslingers, hurling their judgmental viewpoints at blind eyes. Without a common ground between them, no one is hitting the intended mark, and certainly no problems are being solved. It reads as though whoever can say it louder, wins! I also have to say that so much of the posted dialog is amazingly narcissistic.

I hope the whole tragedy is a bit like the phoenix; once it's all blown up, a rebirth anew begins. Yet, I'm afraid that we do not live in times like that anymore. For today, is vengeance the new virtue?

I hope not.

Even if other people have learned nothing from the discourse, I feel that I was gently reminded of some certain key principles for conducting myself. A few simple truths that resonate with me: a) it's not about being "right" or "wrong," b) knowing when to say when, c) how to say, "I'm sorry," d) silence is golden, and in the end e) time heals many things.

There was one comment that caught my attention. I'm keeping this one for myself as reference for when I have children of my own one day. The only one response that I thought was worth repeating:
December 3, 2007 12:57 PM
Smart Senior said...

When I read this story, I was struck by how similar it sounded to something that happened to me four years ago. I had a "friend" bully me and spread very hurtful rumors about me around the school I attended. She was also my neighbor which made it worse.

My mother did exactly what you did AT FIRST. She tried to talk to the parents of my ex friend, she talked to the school, she even discussed the situation with the local police to see if anything could be done.

However, through the whole situation, she reminded me of two things that made a huge difference. First, that this situation would pass. As painful as it was, it was a passing thing.

Second, she taught me that the school I went to and the town we lived in were only a tiny part of a big world. While it felt like my whole world was falling apart, she constantly helped me see that this was just one short chapter in my life.

She and my dad also did something that I think you would have been wise to do. We turned off the computer. They didn't care if "everyone" was online. They cared about what I read and how it affected me and so while they couldn't stop others from saying nasty things, they could stop me from being damaged by those words.

My parents helped me see that I would never be able to control what other people thought or said about me but I could control what I thought about myself. And that, at the end of the day, is the most important thing that matters.

They also knew that if my friends were only my friends because they could IM me, then they weren't great friends to have in the first place. My popularity was less of a concern to them than my WELL BEING.

Many months after my ex friend started bullying me, she stopped. I think the fact that I didn't give in and let her words affect me made a huge difference. I also got to see who my "real" friends were. The people who didn't let her words affect our friendship were my real friends and still continue to be to this day.

It's true that you didn't cause Megan to commit suicide. However, you did a terrible thing by not being an adult. Your daughter looked to you to see how to handle this situation and instead of taking the high road, you did exactly what you accused Megan of doing to your daughter. She was only 13 yet you're an adult!

I hope any parents who reads this know that kids want their parents to take a stand but not they way a teenager would take a stand. They don't want parents who are going to sink to their level but show them how to rise above the pettiness that so often comes with the teen years.

I'm a happy senior in high school with friends and a bright future. I also feel very secure in the knowledge that I'm a good person (with or without others thinking so) and I can handle anything that comes my way.

I pray for you and especially your daughter. While you may feel like you did the "right" thing, you have an opportunity now to admit that what you did might not have been the best thing to do. Showing your daughter that parents do the best they can but sometimes make terrible mistakes is a lesson she can grow from.
I do want to say this much. Joel M. Charon (2007) seemed to nail it on the head when he noted that as humans today, we are increasingly aware of social interactions. They "are important keys to understanding what is going on around us" (p. 141). It is true that we are more aware of successes and failures, more aware of injustice and justice, more aware of social dealings and associations. "And in our increasingly complex society, social interaction is no longer simple and isolated, but usually it goes in directions that are neither predictable nor even intentional" (p. 141). I read that in Charon's book and I think about Lori Drew and Megan Meiers ... and it's unfortunately clear that his point has been made.


Charon, J.M. (2007). Symbolic interactionism: An introduction, an interpretation, an integration. Pearson, NJ: Upper Saddle River.