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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Blogging 101

My first introduction to blogs was made in a fairly dramatic manner. My daughters were in middle school, my son still in elementary school. One of the girls caught me off guard on a holiday shopping trip to a large shopping mall. After having spent a pleasant day with all three children, I had relaxed into the comfortable feeling that “the universe is good, all is right with the world.” (As a cautionary aside, I don’t recommend doing that as a parent!) It was at this point that one of my daughters announced that a girl in her grade at school was planning to commit suicide. “No, this can not be,” I thought. “There is a misunderstanding.”
“What makes you say that?” I inquired. My stomach did a fast-car-over-a railroad track lurch. I was trying to maintain my calm and not be too reactive. I didn’t want to scare her away; she was nervous already. I tried to refrain from drilling her with all the questions that were running through my mind. With as calm an affect as I could muster, I asked, “Do you think she is in any immediate danger?”
“I KNEW YOU WOULD DO THAT,” my daughter cried out. “I shouldn’t have told you and I knew you were going to make a big deal of it. Just leave it alone.”
In my head, I felt calm, but I understood she was projecting all of her apprehensions onto me. Clearly, my daughter was worried; she had told me for her own health after all. On the other hand, she didn’t want to be responsible for the fallout that could come of having told me; she asked me to keep it a secret. That did not, in any way, feel right - although I understood she didn’t want to be labeled a snitch. I wondered about the veracity of the information and whether, maybe, just maybe, we had a phone tree result going here, wherein each generation of the telling the story changed by a small increment. Maybe by the time I caught wind of it, the truth had changed beyond recognition.
Enter Blogging.
When we got home, two hours later, I asked my daughter to fire up her laptop. She punched this, pushed that, and there it was, this girl’s blog that revealed all. With an abandon I never showed as a young teen - even while writing in a locked diary, kept under lock and key - she wrote about her depression, her mood swings, her battle with her feelings of isolation and abandonment and her contemplation of suicide. I drilled my daughters about what was this webpage called? Who could see it? How were “friends” invited?
They gave me answers that made complete sense to them, but left me still confused.
What I was not confused about, however, was my duty to let someone know of this child’s bleak and destructive state of mind. My daughter was doggedly adamant that I was violating her trust. She said she wanted to be able to talk things over with me without me taking it as a call to action. I explained my sense of responsibility, and moreover, the dread of the guilt I would feel, should anything happen to this girl while I sat by silently.

I called the Head of the school to set up an appointment for the next day. I told her that I had information that caused me to be deeply concerned about one of her students. I said I was not at liberty to divulge the source, but I could let her assess the situation herself. I handed over a little postit with an ip address to the girl’s blog. She asked if either of my girls knew anything about the matter. I answered - truthfully -that it would be a violation of their trust in me if I were to further discuss the source. Okay, that was a pretty straightforward answer while still sticking to my accord with my daughter that I wouldn’t “tell” how I knew. I was going through convolutions of word and deed to accommodate honor and social responsibility.

The thing was, the Head was well-apprised that the girl was struggling. Perhaps, she said, she was not apprised of the extent that the student was troubled. Within a week, the blog was gone. Within two weeks, the girl was hospitalized for more psychiatric care than she could receive at home. She did return to school after two months, but it was a very rocky year for her.

That, with its complexities of relationship, duty, and ethics, was the first blog I ever read.
My impression at the time was that it was a self-indulgent journal for people who were not sufficiently engaged in the real world. How radically my views changed as my understanding of the internet, social media and communications grew. Today, I see blogs as a way to bring us together, a vehicle for expression, and tool for learning as well as growing. The only limit to blogs are bloggers themselves. Having said all that, I am glad to say that I write a blog.

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