Although I’ve been enjoying the halo of ConversationBuilderTeen winning best middle school app of the year, my bubble was burst last night. I received an angry email from a SLP about the content of one of the conversations. She called one of the responses completely inappropriate and that she couldn’t believe I would put something like this in the app. The conversation goes like this:
Student – Hi guys!
Peer – How’s the most popular girl in the school doing? (with heavy sarcasm, obviously being mean)
Student possible answers – 1) Uhh ok. – this is correct 2) Am I really that popular? 3) I didn’t know I was popular
Peer – So how many friends you have? Anybody? What are their names? (again with heavy sarcasm, not only being mean but trying to publicly humiliate the student)
Student possible answers – 1) I was just saying hi. What’s with the attitude? – this is correct 2) I don’t have very many friends. 3) Mary is my friend.
Peer – I’m just asking questions. (with heavy sarcasm)
Which brings us to the student response she objected to: 1) No – you’re being a total jerk. Get over yourself. 2) You’re not being nice to me. 3) Leave me alone!!
She felt that teaching kids to tell someone that they are being a jerk was completely irresponsible.
There was another lunchroom conversation I received a different message about. In this one, the student is trying to sit down at the table and the kids won’t let him. They are being very mean about it. The final correct answer for the student was “Dude, you suck, I’ll go somewhere else”. The SLP felt that this was rude and the correct answer should have been much more friendly. And there are a few other examples in the sarcasm and bullying modules of ConversationBuilderTeen.
I understand why they didn’t like that correct responses, but I stand by them. Teaching kids to always be polite and turn the other cheek when they are being bullied may seem like the “right” thing to do, but it just doesn’t work and it never has.
When I created this app, I didn’t want it to sound like an adults interpretation of what a conversation should sound like, I wanted it to sound exactly like teenagers. As such, these conversations were not written by me, they were written by teens. I hired 12 teens to write and record all of them. All of these conversations are based on real events. Believe it or not, I had to sanitize many of these conversations because the real life conversations were a whole lot nastier. And these conversations were written by kids who attended a private catholic school, so they were already more sanitized than conversations that take place in public schools.
The fact is, any non-spectrum kid in this situation with an ounce of self confidence would respond exactly as I have laid out. The peers in both of these conversations are being a jerks, and a non-spectrum kid would call them out for it. By responding “No – you’re being a total jerk. Get over yourself.” or “Dude – you suck”, in a sarcastic voice, the student will gain a little measure of respect, if not by the bully, then by everybody else around them. It makes it clear that the student is not clueless to the fact that she is being bullied, while at the same time showing she won’t be intimidated by it.
I wish kids could just walk away or be polite when they are bullied and it would all stop, but it won’t. If that did work, then bullying wouldn’t exist. Sarcasm and having a little edge when someone is being mean is the ONLY way to make this kind of thing stop. It’s not any fun to bully somebody who stands up for themselves. My only interest is helping these kids get through this difficult time. And that means giving them the tools to verbally defend themselves. Being politically correct is what adults with college degrees do, not teenagers.
This philosophy is backed up by the latest research. Current research shows that the best way to prevent bullying is to help kids learn how NOT to be victims. Using biting sarcasm like this is a diffusion tactic. It puts the bully off balance. They are not expecting someone to come back at them. Calling someone a “jerk” or telling them “you suck” when they are acting the way they are in these conversations is about as tame a response you can have and still be standing up for yourself. Most teens in this situation wouldn’t stop at calling the peer a jerk.
I knew that I was taking a risk by having conversations like this, because it goes against what many SLP’s have been teaching for a long time. But being nice when somebody is bullying you will not prevent it from happening again, it does the opposite. It invites the bullying to continue. As a parent of a special needs daughter who is starting to face this, and as someone who was bullied as a teen, I could not in good conscience put out an app that while would make all the SLP’s happy, would be absolutely useless in helping these kids get through these situations.