It started about 4th or 5th grade. I don’t remember when it hit, exactly, but I know I was young. It seems that my entire “period of growth” lasted from about 10 years old ending only when I entered high school.
Riding the bus was a living nightmare. We lived in a new neighborhood - newly developed out of nothing - so there weren’t schools nearby. We had to be bussed roughly 30 minutes away. Do you know how long 30 minutes is twice a day to a young person?
All the stops. All the slowing down. All the picking up the awful kids. The awful boys. It takes a bus forever to get anyplace. I dreaded those rides.
There were plenty of nice, kind boys too, but funnily (a laugh riot really) enough, we recall our pain more heavily.
I developed early. I started having to wear a training bra early. I thought that was what set the boys off. I thought if I could just keep it secret that I was having a “period of growth” that they would leave me alone. That’s all I ever wanted. To be left alone. Unnoticed. In the background.
And yet, it was not to be. They found me. Every day. On the bus. At school. At recess.
I had a long stretch of time where I wet my pants in certain situations because I was holding it in for so long, fearful for running into people on the way to and from the bathrooms. So, that, as you can imagine, got me teased even more.
Had I told my mom all that was happening, she would have done something about it. But I didn't tell her. I didn't want to get anybody in trouble and then be teased more. I was too embarrassed. I was full of shame.
Because for YEARS I thought it was my fault. I felt shame about being an early developer. I spent years alone at recess or walking around with the recess guard because she was an adult I could trust and no other kids could bother me. I was friends with all the lunch ladies because, well, they were safe. And they gave me food.
I am an adult now. Fuck shame.
What those boys did to me was wrong. The teasing. The unwanted touching. The bra-strap pulling and the throwing of items down my shirt constantly and then pulling my shirt out to “get it out” in aggressive ways.
It was not “boys being boys”.
I saw this story of Facebook the other day - about a mom going into her daughter's school after the principal and teachers said her daughter had punched another kid. Twice. you can read it here. So you see what happened - and were you cheering? Because I was cheering. But then, I always have the gut reaction of, no, no matter what it's still not OK to use violence. I don't want that to be the takeaway.
Because it is never ok to lay hands on somebody else like that. It is never ok that a kid has to endure harassment or unwanted touching or violence of any kind, anywhere, in any type of way.
Teaching respect of ourselves and each other is what we are charged with as parents. You are nobody else's to touch if you don't want them to. And you sure as hell better not touch any other bodies unless they give you the all clear.
We must teach them that it's OK to tell on somebody if you are uncomfortable. Shit. The worst that happens is more uncomfortableness, but the best would be accountability. Maybe it gives somebody a chance to learn about how to treat people. Maybe they don’t know. Maybe they weren’t taught.
Now, I've read that this story referenced above may be fictional. Or at least parts of it. But from where I'm standing, the point was how often this happens.
I posted that story on my personal page, and immediately had several women friends commenting on their own experience of roughly the same thing I'd experienced. Several of whom I grew up with, so that means that yes, it was happening to all of us and we never talked about it. If we only knew..... Woman after woman commenting about the physical and emotional abuse heaped on at an early age by peers. It's heartbreaking. Several women saying they were strong and courageous enough to fight back. Or the moms did the fighting.
I don’t want to encourage fighting. I don’t. But I certainly don’t want girls to be victimized either.
Have things changed since the 1980s (or ever) as far as what we are teaching our kids about respect and personal accountability? I would love to be able to say YES EMPHATICALLY YES, but unfortunately, I don't know that it has.
What I really take away from this is that this shit still happens, will probably always happen, and what are we doing to arm our kids with the emotional and physical guards to resist. To fight it. To say, STOP. THIS IS NOT OK and then when people in authority are made aware of the situation, do they blow it off or do they take it as seriously as I do?
Many will say, well we all had terrible awkward phases of childhood, and yes, we all did in some ways, I believe that to be true, but god dammit, harassment and touching is not just the way it goes.
Let's face it, tween years and junior high are TERRIBLE for roughly 99% of the population.
For years, I was quiet. I was shy. I was nice. I was the fall guy and the good girl. My parents taught me to be kind, but was I too kind? Yes. Yes, I feared getting in trouble. I feared getting others in trouble.
I preach kindness. I practice kindness. I teach kindness. But it’s not a free pass to be walked over. Kindness isn’t a weakness. I know that as an adult. I didn’t know it as a kid.
My message to my kids will be clear. If you feel uncomfortable in any way, you say something. To that person, to another grown up, to us. You tell us what happened and we can figure it out together.
You don't lash out. Violence is not OK. It is not the answer. Kindness is so important. Empathy for what someone else is feeling or going through is the key to understanding. But it doesn’t mean you take it when someone is acting out against you in a way that makes you feel badly. No way.
We've got books that we read now about inappropriate touch, and one of the main lines is MY BODY BELONGS TO ME. I've given my kids full permission to scream that out to anyone at any time who makes them the least bit uncomfortable.
Talk to your boys. Talk to your girls. I have one of each and they are different conversations. And yet, the common theme? Respect. That Golden Rule is so easy. Do unto others....
Because these awful kids will grow up and treat people the way they've gotten away with treating people and it will be ugly. If we can do something to stop that, well, wouldn't you want to?
Don't tell me to homeschool. Don't tell me to get over it. Don't tell me it happens to all of us. Because it shouldn't. These are our babies, and I was fucked up for a long time because of the way I let people treat me. And I will keep saying, it's not just about my kids. It's about ALL OUR KIDS.
One of my favorite things about being an adult is calling shit out that is wrong. And this is wrong.
I want to empower my kids, all our kids, all of us, to speak up. To yell. To bang the walls down if something like this is happening. If you hear it about your kid or about another kid, let's make a deal that we are not silent. That we are fighting for all our kids respect and well-being and hey, this world needs all the help it can get.
I will teach my kids that even though they may not be directly responsible for something, if they see it and say or do nothing to stop it, they are responsible. I am dead serious.
But probably most importantly, IT IS THE AUTHORITY FIGURE, THE ADULT, WHO IS MOST RESPONSIBLE. If a kid comes to you and says something happened, do your best to figure it out. DO NOT say, boys will be boys, or get over it, or possibly even, well you asked for it. Because -
These kids, boys and girls, need to be held accountable. Mine and yours. We need to be held accountable. I don't want my kids growing up feeling shame like I did. I don't want bullying and I don't want unwanted touching in any way to go unnoticed. We've seen too many awful things and lost too many good kids because of it.
We need to make sure our kids feel like they can talk to us and if not to us, to someone. A trusted adult who can help.
It's hard work being an adult and a parent. We are all responsible. I believe in us. I believe we can do better for these kids. We lead, ultimately, by example. If I'm a bully or unkind, my kids will think that's ok. If I stand up for myself and others who need it, that speaks volumes. If I listen to my kids and work through the situation and take action to make sure whoever is responsible is held accountable? I am doing right by these kids. If I pop off, it shows them it's OK to pop off.
We also have to remember that these kids that were acting like jerks to me? There was something going on there too. There was a reason why they felt the need to torment others. They needed love and care too. How do we help them, because they can be helped. There is always hope for change. Kids - people - can change.
We all have a choice to make. I don't want to pop off. I don't want to incite violence. I want to have clear and direct communication, problem solving and care for those who are hurting. I want discipline and I want accountability. On all sides. All that energy I spent feeling shame? Well, it's coming out now in a massive shitstorm of protection for all these kids. I want to be the positive change for all our kids.
As a friend on my page said, "This goes along with boys hit you/are mean to you because they like you. No. They do that shit because they are assholes and no one is teaching them not to be."
Maybe let’s act like everybody is an asshole and it’s our job to teach them not to be. All our kids. We can’t just expect them to know all this stuff and act accordingly. It’s up to us to teach them.
These boys that got away with tormenting me and other girls are the boys that grow up to become the men who walk by my desk every day and say, "you should smile more" because they can't be so blatantly misogynistic in the workplace any longer. So when appropriate, I say, "that makes me uncomfortable when you say that. I don't feel like smiling right now, so I'm choosing not to". You can bet they don't say it again, or at least think twice about it.
I've got years of terrible self esteem to make up for, so I speak up a lot. For everyone.
I don't care what you look like, dress like, smell like, smile like. If anything, those that don't fit in need us most.
And while we are at it, I can look back at my 6th grade self, walking around in my pee pants with my tinted prescription glasses and see someone incredibly lovable and worthy of respect. Period. THIS is what we need to be teaching our kids.