Posts Tagged ‘bully’

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.

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