The little things matter: how my kid’s school schooled me on reacting to sexual bullying

I just returned from a meeting with my kid’s school counselor addressing an issue concerning her, and while there are others getting a talking-to right now, I can’t stop thinking about what just happened. I’m humbled, and I’m so incredibly glad my kid goes to school where she does.

The essentials are this: my daughter loves horses. LOVES. Horses. We own one. She has a million Breyer models and various toy horses. Half her clothing has horses on it. If she has an assignment and can turn it into something horse, she does. Horses are life. Her dream is to own a barn someday, and a stable full of horses, so much so that she’s basing her career choices on paths which would best fund her dream and still leave her free time to ride.

She draws horses too, and has for years, always trying to draw them better. She’s very proud of her work, sometimes taking hours to work on her pieces. Sometimes she colors them, sometimes she doesn’t. She customizes My Little Pony figures, adds mods to games to add horses. She doodles at school when she has time, and brings pictures to school to show her friends.

She’s also a pre-teen, and she loses her work sometimes. One picture was lost recently, only to be found again, then lost a second time. After that loss, it was returned to her by a male classmate…with an addition.

The texts I received from her bus ride home that day were full of hurt and fury. I was proud of the way she’d gotten angry, not let the incident make her cower and destroy the drawing. She had many emotions, but she understood feeding the fire would make it worse, so mostly tried to convey anger and then ignore it. We talked about it, processing her hurt, and I did my best to explain I don’t think it was personal–I doubted they understood how much that hurt her, that they were simply being dumb boys. She understood and was still hurt, which I said was very normal. I encouraged her to fix the drawing, erasing and then adding background to rub it out completely. I also applauded her new drawing, which was a bit…bloodthirsty. I also suggested maybe don’t take that one to school, just enjoy it at home.

Unfortunately, the incident wasn’t over. When she returned to school, the teasing kept happening. From everything I could gather, it was subtle, infrequent, but just enough to keep the wound open. My daughter was upset, still angry, but her anxiety began to pick up, and she didn’t want to go to school. I suggested she tell her counselor and teacher in the class where it happened, and she sent them an email once she was back home. One teacher wrote her back promising this would be addressed, and it seemed to be over for the night.

But as we went to bed, fears of what the next day would bring haunted her, and talking to her teachers and counselors wasn’t enough. When I offered to go with her, she said that was what she wanted.

I have to admit, I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do. I wanted to be passive as much as I could, to let this be her solving the issue, but I didn’t want to leave her to hang out to dry, either. I asked what she wanted me to do, and mostly she seemed to simply want me there. So we sat in the office and waited for her team’s counselor to be available.

First of all, while I’ve talked to this guy before, I’ve never seen him in action with my child. He greeted her with a warmth that came from really knowing and caring about her, and she responded with the kind of ease that said they’d had a lot of conversations and she was clearly glad to see him, to talk with him. I think that’s when I began to understand how serious this was in her head–she felt this comfortable with this counselor, but she still needed me present for this conversation. This point was driven home when she panicked as she found out he hadn’t gotten her email yet and she’d have to relay the story out loud.

She did great, though, repeating the email almost verbatim, her voice only wavering a little. She was calm, cool, and composed.

And that’s when I got schooled.

I am ashamed to say, I expected her to be soothed but told this was how boys are. To say this wasn’t okay but point out this was pretty minor, that this was about defacing property and kids being hurtful and clueless. I thought maybe the boys would be spoken to, maybe, but I wasn’t sure. What I wasn’t ready for was the counselor essentially treating this like sexual assault.

I hesitate saying that, because it feels so serious, implying more invasion than I think my child felt, but basically he took this incredibly seriously, making room for her to feel whatever she felt, to say in no way was this okay. He validated her, thanked her for coming forward, gave her a script to say to her bullies and made it clear the names she gave of those who teased her would be talked to. He explained emphatically any additional teasing especially after they were warned would have immediate consequences. The assistant principal was referenced several times. He repeated these things several times in different ways, made sure my daughter felt okay with how things were going, and when he dismissed her for class, orchestrated an elaborate set of timing so she would not meet her harassers in the hall as they came to the office to be talked to.

Please, please note this is a male counselor, and he’s got at least five years on me. Probably a few more. I’m forty–feel the generation he’s from. Please note the assistant principal referenced is also male. This next bit only matters for the full picture of awesome my daughter is subconsciously digesting: the counselor is a white man, the assistant principal is black. They’re both stereotypical “tough guys.”

My twelve year old was just told, with no blinks, no excuses, no nothing but validation, that they have her back. That she deserves to have strong, powerful people, men included, on her side. That her feelings are valid and her dignity should be protected. That peers, boys or girls, have no write to draw on her pictures, but that when it’s sexual it’s very serious and will be stopped right now. Any attempts to keep things going after the perpetrators have been told to stop will be met with swift justice.

This was the message I watched my girl get. My very pretty, anxiety-carrying, passionate, deep-feeling child. I could not pay money enough in the world to set up that kind of empowerment, and it just happened because that’s a day of doing business at her school. I don’t even think I affected the outcome much by being there. I think this would have happened without me present. I’m selfishly grateful she needed me there so I could witness.

What do I say? Thank you? I did, but it feels so tawdry. I’m ashamed at some of my own thoughts, like I didn’t take it seriously enough. Like I was going to give these guys permission they didn’t deserve. Because I was raised in a different world, in different schools, with different counselors.

For all time, for her life, my child will believe differently. These people pass hundreds of young men and women through their building each year, teaching them this kind of different too. They will carry this into the world. Those boys, who very probably did not mean anything as cruel as it was perceived, will learn they must mind their accidental cruelty. They will live with that message too, and carry it forward to their own children, their sons and daughters.

I just…thank you? What useless words.

What amazing, incredible educators. If only the whole world could go to this school.


21 Comments on “The little things matter: how my kid’s school schooled me on reacting to sexual bullying

  1. This gives me hope, Heidi. We hear so often and so loud (rightly so) about the bad, it’s just so very good to know that there are educators and caretakers of our kids that get it. I’m a firm believer in it taking a village and this proves to me why. 🙂 Kudos to Mr. Counselor!! And quite honestly, the way your girl handled things just goes to show me how well she’s growing up. And that’s thanks in very large part to you and hubby. You prepared her to handle this situation in a very grown up way, I think. And you deserve a pat too, for being able to sit back and let things come to this resolution, something that many parents are unable to do.

    *hugs to all*

  2. I’m so glad your daughter has such a wonderful support network. I’ve been lucky too, both my girls have gone to a wonderful school where issues have been sorted, no fuss, no making mountains out of molehills or molehills out of mountains. The difference it makes to all those young minds is awesome, they learn to think, and reason and understand what is or isn’t acceptable, and you’re right, they will carry that on into university and real life.
    My youngest once moved a male teacher to tears, she bought him flowers as a thankyou, no one had ever given him flowers before, a thank you doesn’t have to be expensive or big, just heartfelt.

  3. I was followed home once by four boys, soon after I started developing a chest, and was held down and felt up by all the boys. I was in 6th grade, which was still elementary school back then so I was 11 years old. When I told what happened, I got the, “boys will be boys”. I’m 43 now, so I was raised in that time you were talking about.

    I’m glad that your daughter was not dismissed. I’m so happy that people, not just girls, are being given validation. It’s nice to know that we all, even as we get older, can still learn something and know that the world is getting to be a better place for our children.

  4. This actually made me tear up, Heidi. Because it fucking rocks that she was validated this way. Too often, we’re made to feel like we shouldn’t make such a big deal out of sexual things that are said to us, shown to us, done to us. I don’t want my girls to think they just have to smile and take it, because that’s just the way things are. Because, you know what? That “boys will be boys” thing discredits boys as much as it does girls. It says, oh, boys are or will naturally be demeaning, misogynist, mean, bullies, etc. That’s not innate. That’s learned/taught/encouraged by a society that tells girls to accept those experiences. If you want to say more than thank you, you could send this post to the counselor. ❤

  5. Wow! From one mom to another – thank you for sharing this. It brings me hope and tears to my eyes. Being from your generation, I can hardly fathom this, but am so happy to read about such progress.

  6. what’s really cool for me — I could feel my own creaky attitude shifting as I read this. I didn’t really “get” the whole outraged response because, man it’s like a compulsion–those pictures of penises are everywhere and it’s just boys being stupid and hey, I love those dumb derpy kids. But after reading this I totally get the fact that intention (dumb, derp, giggles) isn’t the point. You can love the derpy punkins and not allow them to hurt anyone. Actually…. yeah, upon reflection, if I’d caught my boys doing this to someone else’s work or to a book, it wouldn’t have been acceptable. At all.

  7. How wonderful to hear! I am so glad your daughter and you had this experience. It’s good to know that there are schools out there that are moving in the right directions and making positive changes.

  8. Wow that’s so awesome. Coming at it from a different angle; my pre-teen (he’ll be 11 in a few months) is a boy and so I would applaud the talking-to he would receive if he ever happened to be on the other side of the fence on this one….. if you know what i mean? It sounds like a great school – you are lucky.

  9. Considering all the bad we hear about schools these days, this is so refreshing. I’m so glad to hear that your daughter goes to a school like this!

  10. I’m so glad that was handled the correct way. As a mother of 2 girls and a 14 year old son, I have been on both sides of the boys will be boys argument. My husband and I are of the 40+ age group that were raised with that mentality. He was the baby in a family of all boys and they grew up feeling entitled. I am so blessed that with the birth of his girls first he got to unfortunately witness what the consequences were of the boys will be boys attitude toward his girls. We raised them to be strong and to know that their feelings are valid and boys don’t get a pass because of their gender. We are also raising our son to realize the same thing. Above all courtesy and respect for other people and consequences for when it is broken.
    I’m sorry your daughter had to go through that. I hope it is a lesson that stays with her and the boys who felt that was an okay thing to do. Yay for an awesome counselor!

  11. I got the sexual harassment vibe as soon as I guessed what the boy had done. But you leave us on a cliff-hanger. What happened to the kids teasing your daughter and the boy that defaced your daughter’s art? Has the harassment stopped?

  12. That is so awesome, I wish my daughter went to a school like that. My daughter is 17, disabled both physically and mentally, and in a self contained IEP classroom. Two years ago, a boy in the class got her off to herself, tried to kiss her, and felt her up. I got the party line of “it’s not ok, we won’t put up with it, we’re watching him, he goes nowhere alone. BUT HE THOUGHT SHE LIKED HIM.” Her teacher’s words. Like somehow that made it less terrible. She was 15 and boys weren’t even a consideration for her, they still aren’t. She’s all about books and video games, not boys.

    Of course it happened two more times (with other girls) before they FINALLY got him out of the classroom. I wish I knew more, I really should have sued the school, but I was led to believe that because of the kind of classroom it was, I didn’t have any more options. Somehow, I think now that was bullshit.

  13. Oh… how I wish my daughter’s school counselors were like this. Anything that happens to her gets ignored and I have to go full force to the school and take them all on. I’m in the middle of that right now. I think most administrators at that school don’t want to hear from me. Anyhow, thank you for sharing this. It gives me a little hope and the knowledge that its not okay that her administrators ignore this.

  14. I remember sitting in front of my mother and teacher, in tears, because the boys picked on me. She tried to tell me it meant they liked me, and I sat there, *dumbfounded.* At 8, 9, 10 years old, I knew the teasing was nothing but hostility. I realized then that this was the same LIAR who tried to tell me that the vaccination shot wouldn’t hurt if I didn’t look. For years I was convinced that my mother hated me because she kept sending me to school.

    If I’d had access to the Weaponry….

  15. It’s a bit sad when we’re surprised that school officials actually support and validate our kids. I’m so happy they addressed this the way they did.

  16. Im so glad you and your daughter had the support you needed. Hopefully your daughter isn’t having anymore problems and the situation was resolved. I think this is one of the hardest parts with being a parent, is knowing when you need to step in and help or letting your kids try and figure out the problem themselves. There just doesn’t seem to be an easy answer but I’m glad in your situation you and your daughter got the support you needed instead of the school just trying to pacify your concerns.

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