Kalani Goldberg is 13. She’s in 8th grade. She loves drawing and art and music. She’s apparently really good at math.
But on Monday, she turned herself into a human Post-It note, covered in insults.
In a heartbreaking video posted on social media, the Arizona teenager stuck the tiny sheets of paper all over her arms and torso. Each one contained a slur hurled at her by her peers:
“I am a sister. I am a daughter. I am a person and I have feelings,” Kalani says in the video. “Everyday I wear your words, and everyday it hurts.
“Everyday you are hurting me. Everyday you are hurting each other,” she says as she starts crying.
“I don’t want to wear your words anymore. So please stop. Stop hurting me.”
She’s already facing rude comments about the video
Now I know there are those who will watch this video and say “buck up buttercup.” Those who will say that kids have always been mean to each other, that it’s part of life and that teens today are just too soft.
(I know this because I already saw those very comments after the story was shared on azcentral.com’s Facebook feed.)
Putting aside the fact that some compassion-less adults think it’s OK to tell a CHILD how to behave while sitting oh-so-bravely behind their computer screen… I’ll do this:
I will acknowledge that they may have a point. Sort of.
It’s true: Kids have always been mean
Yes. Kids making fun of each other is a ritual as old as time.
After all, I wasn’t exactly at the top of my social ladder in high school. I remember being excluded, being left out and being teased.
Guess what? It sucked then.
And it’s worse now.
I don’t recall anyone calling me a “whore” because I didn’t loan them a pencil (after previously loaning said student several pencils they didn’t return.)
But that’s what happened to Kalani, according to her mother.
The fact is, kids today are angrier, meaner and more sophisticated in their bullying than they were when I was young.
And they are not learning it from the peers. They are learning it from us…the so-called adults in our society.
We live in an age where we screech insults at each other from the safety of our couch while holding our phones. We verbally attack high school students who just witnessed their classmates being massacred because they express opinions that don’t match our own.
My son is 7. This morning he was in tears (again) because he didn’t want to go to school (again) because he was afraid that some of his friends would be mean to him (again).
When he watched Kalani’s video (as I was reporting the story), he looked at me very solemnly and said, “Tell her it’s OK. It happens to me too. I understand how she feels.”
Yeah. I cried a little.
Do I think his friends are punks? Of course not. But young children sometimes fail to realize that their words DO hurt. That their actions ARE mean.
And if we don’t correct it and model good behavior straight out of the gate, it escalates into something more insidious and severe.
Jared and Regina Goldberg, Kalani’s parents, said they were heartbroken this weekend when their daughter finally shared what she had been enduring at school.
“It hit me like a ton of bricks. I never thought my family would be dealing with this,” Regina Goldberg said. “You spend your time as a parent trying to let your child know how much you love them.
“It never occurred to me that there would be others who were equally influential, and that what they are saying would drown out what I was saying.”
Parents, she said, must do better.
A call to action for parents
“You can’t punish your child into being a better person,” she said Wednesday. “But you can show them how to be a better person.”
Kalani said she made the video for two reasons:
- She needed a way to release her pent-up feelings.
- She wanted to let other kids know they weren’t alone.
“If people were to see the video, I hope they know there are kids all over the place who get picked on,” she said. “Even if they don’t say anything, they are going through it.
“Even though I kind of write them off as stupid remarks, they stick with me and that’s where I got the ‘I am wearing your words.’ ”
Next time I see Kalani — or any teenager like her— I am going to hand them a stack of Post-It notes with an entirely different set of words on them.
- Role model.