Dear Abby of Cyberspace
For a while this past year, several thousand girls between the ages of 10 and 14 read my words every day by logging on to Allykatzz.com, an Internet site for “‘tween” girls that provides a safe alternative to MySpace and Facebook.
They wrote to me about their parents’ divorce or their fear of seventh grade or their little eating disorder they hoped no one else would know about.
For several months, I became the “Dear Abby of Cyberspace,” the friendly counselor whose open door was only a cursor away, the virtual adult who answered a teen girl’s question when the actual adult in her life couldn’t even be asked.
When I was brought on to the Allykatzz staff, I expected that my blogging ‘tweeners would grapple with the same issues as I hear of in person from my at-risk adolescent clients: sex, drugs, and — rock ‘n’ roll not withstanding — anger, anxiety and despair. Although the emotional outpouring was similar to that of the kids I work with daily, some of the stories I was told by my nameless readers astonished me:
There was the girl who was raped when she was 8 and, at 14, wanted to know how to keep it a secret until she got to college; the girl who was born with a deformed limb and wanted to cut it out of her body; the girl whose father just died of brain cancer and who wanted to hypnotize herself out of grieving.
I tried to answer all of them, often urging them to advocate for themselves by seeking out counseling or a support group or by expressing their feelings in a positive, healing way. I made it a point to let each of them know they are cherished, unique young women and that, whatever confronts them, this too shall pass.
On a lighter note, the most frequent issue of all seemed to be the one I call the BFF Dilemma. For those of you who are ignorant of cyber-speak, a BFF is a Best Friend Forever. The problem for many of my bloggers was that, alas, the BFF actually shouldn’t be forever. Here is a typical (if not actual) letter:
“So, Leda, like HELP me!!!! My BFF who I no since we wuz in frst grade has gotten so ANNOYING!!! She IMs me all the time and talks about nothing! She even makes fun of me in front of other grls! She told one really cool popular grl my name is Jade and it is SO not Jade! She was OK til 7 grade and then she got WEIRD. My mom sez 2 ignore her but I cant! What to do?”
There were so many BFF Dilemma letters that they took on a weight equal to that of my occasional clinically depressed teen. Although a few of the girls face horrific problems, most of them were dealing with the simple process of being. I am constantly reminded in my work that an adolescent’s struggle to forge a mature identity can be a lonely one, as singular and as difficult as a butterfly emerging from a cocoon.
Part of that transformation is in deciding who will be compassionate and trustworthy enough to make the passage with them. When I was a teenager, I would become baffled and angry when my normally very progressive Jewish parents, who had a reputation among my friends for being especially hospitable, would shake their heads in wonderment and disapproval at some of my peers. “Di vos vaksn nit, vern kleyner,” my Yiddishkeit, immigrant father would tell me: Those who do not grow, grow smaller.
He was right.
BFFs, BBs (blog buddies) and BFs (boyfriends) will come and go, despite the best of intentions, simply because the level of maturity between adolescents is so uneven. Hopefully, for my readers, there will be new and better friends and perhaps a sympathetic adult or two on the road ahead as they travel from girlhood through adolescence into adulthood. It is my wish that I can be one of those adult voices who can support and cajole a young woman forward.
I am reminded of another bit of Yiddish wisdom: Each child carries his or her own blessing into the world. So far, I have been blessed many times over, and I am both grateful for and honored by them all.
Leda Siskind is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles who works with adolescents, young adults and families. She can be reached at (323) 824-0551.