Back in the day…

When the Columbine High School shootings occurred on April 20, 1999, I was twenty-nine years old. I was living with my fiancé, with the wedding not quite a year away, and I had been out of high school for twenty-two years.  I went to a Catholic high school, but it was a regional school and so drew from a large area and had a pretty diverse student body, at least for the time and place. It always amused me that I knew two or three Jewish kids whose parents had sent them to this school, as it was better than any available public option (or so I guessed).

Sometime after Columbine, my dad asked me if I’d ever worried about such a thing while I was in high school. First, I have to say, I often characterize myself at that time (mid/late 1980s) as rather oblivious. I don’t mean to say I was ignorant or naive about the world, although I wasn’t the most savvy. I kept to myself, read a lot of books, had some friends and generally flew under the radar. I was not bullied, although I suppose it was safe to say I was somewhat ignored by any in-crowd. Some of this resulted from the fact that I transferred schools about five weeks into the first marking period; any groups of friends that had formed by that time were pretty solid and no one was really looking to add anyone into their group. I kept to my own devices and was generally left alone.

Back to Dad’s question — had I feared someone coming into my school with guns or bombs or anything else? No. Truth was, as I told him, it wouldn’t have occurred to me to think about worrying about something like that. Of course now with one child in elementary school and another about to start this fall, such things kind of niggle at the back of your mind. But you can’t do much about a lone wolf bent on destruction — I have to trust the school officials to make the building as secure as possible; to the other parents of the kids in the school to keep an eye on, well, everyone; the teachers to keep an eye on their kids; even my kids to tell me if they think something’s wrong somewhere. It’s a crying shame that at some point I will have to tell them these things.

These days I read about a lot of sex stuff with teenagers. Surely by now most of us know the names of Audrie Pott, or Steubenville, OH, or Rehteah Parsons. And I think, my God, in four or five years my son will be the age of the perpetrators; in ten, my daughter will be the age of the victims. And it all makes you say: WTF?

I get that kids, teenagers, do stupid things. Fine. The brain is still forming. Logic is circuitous, if it’s there. What seems to make sense in the moment is obviously totally wrong in hindsight. I try to tell my kids that mistakes are fine, but learn from them. When they’re old enough, I will tell them to call me at any time day or night, for help if they need it, and I won’t care whose fault the situation is.

What I want to know is how do these kids come to these horrible conclusions that their actions are acceptable? In Steubenville, we can blame some of it on alcohol. But afterwards? Is high school football that freaking important?

It seems amazing that after all this time of equality, slow though the path has been, and as long as it may stretch in front of us until we get to the end, that when it comes to sex, girls are at fault, even if they aren’t at fault. Yeah, I agree that no one should put themselves in a bad situation. But it happens. And when it happens, that doesn’t mean the “gate is open” or that the victim (no matter the gender) is at fault. The people at fault in Steubenville and the other cases are the ones who committed the crime. 

Did no one watch The Accused?

As I said, I flew below the radar in high school, or I’m guessing I did. No one went out of their way to make things hard for me, which unfortunately is probably what a lot of kids would love to have happen. I remember one slight incident that pales to the point of invisibility given what we read about today.

I hadn’t been in the high school long when a couple of girls approached me and told me that some guy liked me. I probably barely knew who he was.  My reaction was something like, well, okay fine. I didn’t rise to any bait. They kept trying, as I recall. At one point they told me the guy wanted to make out with me and “finger me,” and although I guessed from context what that meant, I didn’t really know. It was getting on my nerves. It ended when they came to me one day at lunch and said the guy wanted my phone number.

Now, when we moved and got our phone number, the phone rang all the time and a lot of times at night. My dad theorized the previous number owner had been a drug dealer or something. After a few weeks of this, we got a new number. When these girls approached me in the cafeteria about the number, I wrote the old one down and handed it to them. I never heard another thing about it (although I thought this was pretty clever on my part, and I’m usually not that sneaky). Whether the guy ever called the number, or the girls did, I have no idea. But that was the end of it.

Like I said, that was nothing. But I can imagine now that if I’d fallen for it, I might easily have gotten the mid-80s version of “slut-shaming” at some point. Actually I bet that version isn’t much different than today’s, except today such things an spread faster with the internet and social networking. And I am still left with why such a thing would happen. Why do people (of any age) want to do that? Why  are parent so oblivious about it? What can we do or say to help prevent it, or prevent a drastic reaction to it?

I hope that my daughter doesn’t have to go through that. I also hope that neither she nor my son ever perpetrate or contribute to such a thing. Saying “How would you feel if it was you?” just isn’t going to work.

And obviously much of this comes back to sex. I’m not blaming anything on sex per se, because sex is well, something you do. It’s what leads up to it that is important. It’s a bit like a story, but in real life, it’s obviously fraught with more consequences. And this is not about saving oneself until marriage. This is about teaching your kids to be as smart as possible, to protect themselves as well as possible from the physical and the psychological damage people can inflict — and that’s a hell of a job.

Let’s reach for the stars, shall we? What would help: a healthier attitude about sex all around; access to information and contraception without judgment; that you should respect yourself and your partner; that it is never okay to forward photos of a person in a bad or compromising situation; that it is never funny to do that either; young men need to be taught that yes, they have needs, but lack of refusal from a potential partner (of either gender) is not implication of consent; young women need to be taught that as well, but also that saying no to anything they don’t like is their right, and that you’ll help them — and believe them — when they tell you they’ve been assaulted (and young men, too).

Maybe in another few decades, we can shake our heads that we ever had to do this.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Matthew Vett on May 1, 2013 at 2:33 pm

    Awesome read! Thanks for writing it, although it’s a shame it needs to be written.


  2. Posted by Lady Falcon on May 1, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    I hope for a time we don’t have to worry as well. Children are cruel in their endeavor to become adults; they have as far as I can tell always been that way in every generation. I also flew under the radar when I was in school although to be honest I don’t remember anyone ever reporting they had been bullied or the like when I was in school. My dad was in the Air Force and my brother and I went to schools more often than not was located on the military base. As far as I know us military brats have enough issues with one or both of our parents going TDY to spend time thinking up insults or tricks to play on the less popular classmates. We always had new kids because the military doesn’t care if its in the middle of the school year when they issue PCS orders. The few times I was at a school with ‘civilian’ kids there were enough military brats in residence that we were our own force to be reckoned with and no one bothered us. But, maybe my memory is faulty.

    I have a 10 year old daughter and we’ve already talked about respect and tolerance for others as well as for yourself. She knows before she will be alowed to go on a date we, her dad and I, will have to meet the young boy or girl and said person will have to come inside and have a conversation with us beofre the two of them leave for the evening. 😉 I’m a big believer in putting a name and face and feeling to people and it makes them feel more personal and therefore we care about them. I much prefer to handle situations in person rather than on the phone – its harder to skirt the truth in person.

    I’ve also already told her through the help of movies like The Cinderella Story series that if she is ever in any trouble or potential trouble to call me and I will come to the rescue without any punishments….that is not to say we won’t talk about it but it won’t turn into a lecture. If I can help it. I try.

    So far this open communication has worked for us…there was an incident last year in the 4th grade where it was rumored that a boy in her class had brought a gun to school and was showing people and using it as a threat for some bullying. I wasn’t the only parent to report the rumor and get an investigation started. It turned out to be not a ‘real’ gun but the school had a deputy sherriff start coming into the school once a week for seminars with the different classes during their activity period to talk about all sorts of things like gangs, drugs, weapons, bullying, etc. It was handled really well and I think the children took alot away from the assemblies and all without pointing out who the tattle tales were – it was something my daughter was concerned about when she told me the rumor.

    And once again, I’ve written way too much. 🙂


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