Cyberbully and self-esteem

What can we learn from the self-esteem movement? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

A few days ago my wife and I got Netflix and were just browsing and seeing what was on and came across a movie called Cyberbully. Allie was curious about it so I figured I’d turn it on seeing as I know that’s a subject of interest to her. My wife dealt a lot with bullies when she was in school and there have been people online who have been quite hurtful to her and those people I do not put up with.

The story is about a teenage girl in high school named Taylor who has a mother who lets her use the family computer, but she puts up good restrictions that Taylor thinks are just over the top. Then comes the day that the mother gives Taylor some trust and gives her her own laptop. Unfortunately, what Taylor does immediately with her girlfriends is goes to a social site that her mother and said she shouldn’t get on and immediately the trouble starts ranging from fake profiles wanting to talk to her and then spreading false information to school bullies making embarrassing videos about her and seeing all the comments that are made. At this point, Taylor has a suicide attempt and then finds the help she needs and begins the work to stop cyberbullying. The movie I think is overdramatic at times, though I do agree we have a problem with a lot of young people on the internet.

As I was watching with Allie, I was telling her that I found it incredible that centuries ago, people that age would already be productive members of society and could very well be parents of their own raising children to be productive members. Today, they’re more often just kids who don’t have a clue about the real world and break down based on what their peers say about them. It showed me in fact the utter bankruptcy of our self-esteem movement.

Now does that mean I’m against a positive attitude? No. Does that mean I’m against people feeling good about themselves? No. What I am opposed to is the focus of us being us and that we think our goodness resides in us. Too often in our society we have concepts like goodness just floating around in the air and we don’t even know what they are, but we believe that somehow they apply. We also tell people that they’re good because they’re unique, but then so is everyone else in the world. There will never be another person like you? Of course, and that could be said to everyone else in the world.

Thus, we have a goodness without any foundation and when it is attacked, we crumple over immediately. It’s as if when someone says something to us, we treat it as automatically true. I found myself wondering what would happen if we lived in an honor-shame society. For instance, the fake account that befriends Taylor has the person behind it accusing Taylor of giving them an STD. Immediately, everyone responding to it just agrees immediately. In an honor-shame society, Taylor could have asked for evidence. “Okay. You say that happened? Prove it. Put up a document from a doctor.” She could ask “If we had a date, what did we do? Where did we go? Do you have any receipts?” Instead, the focus immediately goes to how Taylor feels about it instead of asking “Is this true?”

Had that been done and the person been unable to respond, then Taylor would have won the day and the phony would have been seen for a phony. Instead, Taylor just accepts the criticism head on and accepts that everyone just believes it instead of thinking “Wow. My classmates are just really gullible.” When fellow classmates make a stupid video about her and she responds with an attempted suicide, it is in fact a way of saying “Everyone else will believe this, including the people who know me best.” Of course, Christians should try to live in peace with all men, but there are times that we just have to move on.

The self-esteem movement does not work because we have no foundation for our goodness and value then. They’re just concepts floating in the air. In Christianity, our goodness does not come from us. We are good because of who it is that we are in relationship with. God is the source of our goodness. We have taught a generation of children to believe that they are good without any real reason other than that they are who they are and they find it hard to believe when that’s called into question. Ironically, we want them to have the kind of “faith” that skeptics accuse Christians of having in their own goodness.

We can also add in that we have not presented children with the proper thinking skills to analyze claims and see what’s true and what isn’t. It’s fortunate that this girl had a good mother in the house (The father had abandoned them for a younger girl) and that’s also an essential part as parents definitely need to be more careful with their children online, but parents also need to be teaching children where their true value comes from. When parents don’t do this, then they can expect the worst to happen.

One other thing needs to be said. Too often in this we’re making our focus be on the bullies and trying to change them. Instead, let’s work on empowering the victims and the people who are prone to bullying. There will always be people who want to do evil. There will always be bullies among us. Of course, we must use discipline at times, but our focus should be on helping those who are weak among us. Build them up so what bullies say doesn’t matter.

In Christ,
Nick Peters