Woodbury teen faces a hostile world, triumphs

Today’s column from the Pioneer Press’ Ruben Rosario is the sort of thing you want to put before every young person in your house to whom you’ve given a smartphone. And then roll it up and smack a few parents on the side of the head with it.

It’s the story of a courageous seventh-grade girl in Woodbury who reveals how a typical middle-school relationship degenerated quickly into sexual manipulation.

“My circle of friends said they all did it,” Michaela Snyder said of the first request from a boy for a text message of her with just a bra. “They didn’t think anything of it. I felt bad about it, but I did not want to lose him.”

Among the frightening “this could happen in my house” reality checks in the piece is this one: She’s the daughter of a police sergeant in the crimes against children unit in Minneapolis, who knew enough to warn his daughter about how girls end up in horrible situations. But it wasn’t enough.

“I believe if you gave information, that was protection enough. It wasn’t,” Grant Snyder said.

Oh, it gets worse. In the upscale school district where people often think pretty highly of themselves, some parents joined in the bullying.

The bullying began, Michaela says, after rumors spread in the school about the sexting and that she had “outed” the boyfriend to her parents. She was tripped up at school and called worthless, a slut and other names, mostly in text messages. She often ate her lunch in the restroom because no one she knew would allow her to sit next to them in the cafeteria. When she decided one day to eat her lunch in the locker-room area, “I was told (by a teacher) that I could not do it there and to go to the (school) office to eat it there,” she said.

Snyder said he and his wife complained to school officials about the bullying incidents. Dissatisfied with the responses (the culprits denied doing anything), he said he took matters into his own hands after he found out that, during the bus ride home one day, three boys told his daughter, “You should die.”

He went to the homes, accompanied by Michaela, and civilly brought up the bus incident. The fathers of two of the boys expressed shock and confronted them. Both boys expressed remorse and apologized. One of them hugged Michaela.

The third stop, however, went down quite differently, Grant Snyder recalled. The boy was laughing and snickering as Snyder explained the behavior to his parents.

“The dad basically accused Michaela of being manipulative,” Grant Snyder said. “He asked me if I had any proof. I did not identify myself (as a cop) and I did not go over there with anything but respect.”

He was also taken aback by his phone conversation after he learned of the pictures with the mother of the boy his daughter had dated.

“I expected emotion, but she was flat in tone, like it did not register with her,” he recalled. “I never got a call back from her or from the father.”

Her parents kept her at Lake Middle School against her wishes. They felt she would be better off facing a hostile world.

  • Greg W

    What a brave kid to go back to that same school during this whole fiasco. That is truly inspirational. I am not prepared to discuss sexting with my two sons. Thankfully, they are still younger than 5 so I have a few years to prepare myself.

  • joetron2030

    Those “parents” of the bullies deserve the quotations around the word “parents”.

  • John

    I have a nine year old son, and a six year old daughter.

    I’m not good with this at all. I’m glad Michaela got through it okay in the end (or at least so far), but I’m a little sick to my stomach about what’s coming in my kids’ (and by extension my) lives. I’m not too happy that she had to go through this at all.

    At this point, I’m not too worried about the older one. He has developed his own moral compass, and an excellent self-worth that doesn’t rely on others’ opinions. (As a result, he has kind of a “screw you” attitude toward people trying to convince him to do stuff he doesn’t agree with. I encourage that a little bit, and step in as needed.)

    My daughter – I’m not sure how this is going to go. She’s an entirely different personality from her brother, and is much less open with me about what’s going on in her head and life. I’m pretty terrified that this sort of thing could happen to her a little too easily.

    So, what do we, as parents and adults in society do about it?

  • Lisa

    I appreciate what her parents are trying to do by keeping her in the same school, but I this kind of thing is dangerous. It doesn’t allow her to learn how to evaluate the pros/cons of any given situation and decide what’s worth staying for/when to leave. For example, I can’t imagine at this point, when she has no friends left willing to sit with her at lunch, what remains at that school worth that’s staying through the emotional abuse for. Does the school have an amazing language department? A direct line to the Ivy League?

    I guess my rambling point is that staying in a bad environment just to prove you’re strong enough is a dangerous idea. There has to be some other upside, otherwise leave.