A Fresh Start – my ‘parent perspective’ on bullying
This is my tornado. Her name is Alexandria, and this is her story. She has been the target of bullies for the last several years.
She is 12 now but this has been going on since she was very young. She is 4’8″ and weighs 70lbs soaking wet if she is lucky. You would think, me being a pretty intelligent, empathetic, self-aware person and all that jazz, I’d have seen the signs sooner. Not to mention I was bullied myself. But I still missed it……trust me my friends, you are NOT alone in that guilt.
Middle School was a nightmare for me. I had just moved to the east coast at her exact age, I had a Southern accent from living in Kentucky for the past few years or so and I was definitely not the strong, confident girl I am today. Perhaps if I had been, things would have turned out differently for me there. I won’t bore you with the details, they were bad – but I made it through and when I went to HS, everything was different. It’s the age I swear…..
From the second I knew she was on her way into this world, my little girl has always marched to the beat of her own drum. She lives life out loud in the raw format version, where her older brother is very laid back and mellow. Parenting a child like her has been a challenge and we have learned as much about the world & ourselves from her, as she has from us. I can only hope like hell she keeps that clear strength and determination I see in her today. Nothing she says or does really shocks us, we know by now to expect the unexpected. She keeps us on our toes for sure! Neither of us are the parent going to school saying “my little angel couldn’t have…” – it’s more like “oh dang, well sounds like her style” and we handle it accordingly.
But NO little girl should carry shame or embarrassment because other kids act like barbarians. It isn’t her fault either, that the adults in her life that should have protected her are too busy trying to protect their own rear ends and jobs. And it is certainly NOT her fault that kids laid hands on her period!
It started out with the little things that we all tend to brush off. ‘So and so called me <insert insult>’ or ‘they pushed me in line’. She would come home bristling to let me know what happened and how she handled it. Several times it ended in upset calls to the school or the Superintendent on my part. Most of my time and attention was spent discovering the truth behind the tale and making sure Tornado was not punished for protecting herself if that was the case and she was indeed the victim…..and it often was the case. Had it not been for us keeping eyes on her at all times, they might have successfully painted her as a “troublesome” child or worse, she might have taken her life like two kids in our school system already have this year. In fact, the longer the bullying went on….the more she morphed into a child who was difficult at best and flat ‘defiant’ at worst. Did I mention she has a very low BS tolerance and somehow got the idea that life was supposed to be fair to us each equally….
She has always struck me as blunt, forthright, strong and outspoken – imagine my surprise when I realized she wasn’t handling it all as well as I thought. Or the horror when the details started flooding out.
She was assaulted multiple times, sexually molested, verbally harassed/threatened by what turns out to be over 20 children at the end of this time/story; and a group of boys would make sexually harassing comments to her, one even exposed himself to her. Three of our schools on this side of the mountain knew what was going on, the whole history and over a dozen adults who work at the schools as teachers, administrators or in other capacities have been involved at some point in the last 3-5 years – but have failed to act time & time again.One of the bus drivers involved actually took my children from my home with no intention of delivering them to the school.
The things these kids are saying to her leave me speechless. I’ve never heard such words or phrases come from the lips of my kids – little boys who already tell my daughter they will touch her when they want. Who even says things like that, let alone thinks it is okay to say to another child?!? Rather than sit taking abuse, my daughter is the type to go off on a rant and tell them off and that screechy note in her voice is what triggers the irritation in others (nails on a chalkboard some days – trust me). That becomes white noise to the adults and other kids after a short period of time and then, like the little boy who cried wolf, no one listens to her anymore. Only they never really paid attention in the first place. My little girl was screaming silently for help for way too long. Grown adults charged and trusted with the task of educating and caring for our children looked me right in the face and paid lip service then turned around and told my daughter it was “a tattle”. They clucked about how terrible it was and promised us they would take care of it but nothing ever seem to come of it. We believed them. No one helped me or intervened for me, my own mother blew me off whenever I would try to ask for help back then, I foolishly thought simply being involved and advocating for her was enough. There was never any video – for various reasons and excuses thru the last few years, or no one saw/heard anything (but they would investigate) or perhaps they already labeled her in their minds and she was simply ignored.
Whatever the reasons were, we put our foot down this year and early! Girls are especially vulnerable at this age and it shapes the way they view themselves and respond to the world for the rest of their lives. We met at the school for ‘campus court’ about her absences and I watched three grown adults act like fools. They denied the school district has any problems with bullying though it has become the focal topic of this county recently. They told me the 17 days Tornado had missed to that point were worse than any of the abuse she suffered. I laughed right in the lady’s face and told her flat out “No it’s not!!” – she was very offended and got huffy after that. The middle school resource deputy chimes in that under his careful watch there were no bullying issues and was offended we insinuated children were not safe at the school – he personally makes sure all the doors are secure…… (like that helped my daughter in this case). We attempted to explain Tornado’s story and the troubles we have faced but we were never able to finish a sentence. Of course none of the four school officials had anything to say when I mentioned Jazmine and Patrick – the two beautiful souls this same “exemplary” system has failed this year alone. The officials paused and it became quiet. then in loud intimidating tones came then you go to REAL court – where the judge will put one or both of us in jail for truancy.We said “Fine, thank you”, confident that with three years of documentation, assessments, counselors, and witnesses, we would ultimately prove school officials were being negligent in their duties to protect our children. Suddenly we will file assault charges on your daughter too….how petty and vindictive is that? We aren’t scared into submission and suddenly charges appear but you still refuse to produce the video?
I would venture to say it didn’t go well and we wound up in J.V. court, less than a week later facing truancy charges and now they are attempting to charge Tornado with assault. We narrowly avoided jail when we scraped up enough money for an Attorney who specializes in children’s law. Thank the heavens he moved his schedule around and appeared with us that day or we might have a different tale to tell right now. The school system showed up in force against my daughter and we likely would have been railroaded as so many others have before us. You wouldn’t believe the stories we have heard. They produced a video this time – 7 mins of a roughly hour long ride and it cuts out before you see the child in question kicking Tornado and her friend. If what I saw was assault, then throw every kid ever born into jail right now. In fact her little friend leans over and pinches the same kid my girl popped and he grabs her arm and lunges at her several times. All of them were laughing, none of them were hurt and yet since my daughter is “on radar” she is the only one singled out and told her fooling around was wrong. Did I mention that this was audio/video – in violation of their Constitutional rights, without parental consent/knowledge or posted notification signs on the bus? Or that I cannot find who our Title IX Coordinator is or if we even have one? I know we don’t have the cyber/bullying policy in the handbooks/agendas yet and that passed in 2012.
I even offered to have her serve a bus suspension in one case if the other children involved served the same……the superintendent and vice principal declined. It left her trapped and then the bullies started slipping under the seats to get to her without the driver noticing or sent younger siblings/friends to do it thinking (accurately) who would believe younger kids were bullying an older child? As an extremely logical child, she finds it hard to grasp the ever fluxing “social rules” in her peer group right now. Don’t get me wrong, my daughter is no loner….she tried out for and made her school basketball cheer squad for the last two years.
I’m sad that she lost that when we pulled her from public school because it was a major factor in repairing her confidence and it taught her so much. The value of practice and hard work, how it feels to cheer your team on from the sidelines, the camaraderie formed among your fellow cheerleaders. She however, does not, and never has bowed to popular, ‘social norms’. She doesn’t care what others think, she does what she believes is right or what she enjoys. She is likely to dress up beautiful for a girl’s day out with me as she is to throw down on Call of Duty with her brother. She doesn’t comprehend being judged on outer appearance and that makes her a target for the girls who are just getting to that point of social pressure in clothes, makeup, boys etc. I double dare you to call her short though. lol My girl is just not interested in it if doesn’t stimulate her mind or pique her curiosity. Yes, I know her coat has a few holes, no we don’t need you to donate one to us, she has THREE nice ones…..she just never wears them because that one is her favorite. It is soft and comfortable and perhaps not the height of fashion so they sneer. Most girls here won’t be caught dead without at least an hour prep work. At her first formal, she was one of the few not wearing makeup and not dressed in a ‘pageant’ dress that was far too revealing and mature for her.
I’ve spent the last few years hurting and anguished over the look I would see in those big blue eyes of hers, she was begging us for help from behind them. She wanted so bad “to be good” and “to be accepted” but couldn’t figure out how. The rules were different for her and they kept changing depending on who was involved. SHE alone was targeted and assigned a seat, after all, it is so much easier to seat Tornado separately than it would be to make all the other kids on the bus act like human beings. She didn’t understand why she got in trouble and the others did not and has drawn the conclusion it is because of some flaw/fault on her part. I’m most torn up about that fact.
You work so hard to instill rules, etiquette and personal responsibility in your children hoping they stick when you send them out into the world. Then you send them off to school to get an education, only to find out a great deal of what they are learning is so destructive, especially left unchecked and often it is too late once you figure it out. Puberty is already a mess of emotions, hormones and urges we don’t quite understand at the time and left without context or guidance kids get themselves into trouble. It’s scientific fact not moral judgement. We quite simply lack the finer points of acting civilized at that age and so tend to be lead by our emotional, chaotic side rather than our logic, critical thinking and problem solving one. As humans we crave interaction with others, acceptance, understanding, love and support. These kids are learning at a young age it is okay to abuse others and worse yet, a great majority are learning you either fall in with the bullies or you find yourself on the other side of the fence – a target yourself. Desperate for that social acknowledgement kids fall to peer pressure all the time and act out of character. They are young and most will hopefully learn from their mistakes and go on to be good adults. Many will not and still others will leave this world too soon, convinced it is an ugly, pain filled mess that will never end. The kids who are bullied face a lifetime of issues based on the destruction of their foundations – self-esteem, trust, compassion, honesty, friendships/relationship interactions. It leaves them piecing the shards of their tender hearts back together time & time again. It skews the way they see themselves and the world in more ways than we can imagine. But we can’t let the darkness win, we have to shine the light for all who are lost.
Our Family Motto/Mission Statement is: Learn your powers, then only use those powers for good not evil.
I can’t tell you how many times OrdinaryDad and I have summed up a parental session with “we are trying to teach you to use your powers for good, not evil”. LOL. It breaks the tension and reassures the child you are not trying to dismiss or censor them. It also reminds them that in this crazy, mixed-up life as long as we have each other and do our best to leave the world better than we found it, we can weather any storm. I hope they are both watching closely as we stand our ground and fight for them & what we believe in. If they learn to hold their own no matter what kind of pressure is applied I will be satisfied this lesson was worth the proverbial licks.
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Until we meet again, stay safe and be blessed my warrior friends.