I was shocked when I heard him say it, but I don’t remember the exact reaction that bounced around inside my head. I didn’t dare utter a word. None of the other girls did, either.
We were gathered in a crescent-shaped semicircle in the hallway outside our fifth grade classrooms, all of us staring back at a man who towered over us — this day in anger, with his double-jointed, first finger pointing right at us.
“You know what? You’re all just a bunch of bitches,” our teacher said, clearly exasperated by the playground bullshit we’d been involved with in the days and weeks leading up to this seminal moment.
He was right. We were being bitches. The kind of infuriating, absurd, Lord of the Flies-type, stake-your-claim crap that is etched in the fabric of time for every kid. We were going through a rite of passage that comes with being hormonal preteen girls. I’m sure we weren’t the first and we wouldn’t be the last.
Him calling us bitches was his way of handling it. It was the 80s, when teachers still smoked at school (in the lounge!), so swearing isn’t that bananas. But it shocked the shit out of all of us, in part because he had a low, booming voice and seemed like he was nine feet tall.
In that era, and the decades that followed, gross behavior from kids — which sometimes escalates to the level of bullying — happened on the playground. Sometimes it carried over to the bus stop (for me, it was a bus ride, with a kid who loved to remind me how pathetically endowed I was, but only when other kids were on the bus with us — never when we were the last two). The point is, ugly behavior was out of sight from anyone who could do anything about it.
Notes that were passed in class were reserved for crushes, obviously. Nothing was in writing. So, in fairness, administrators could only really address what was happening on campus. And that was still a she-said, she-said kind of thing.
Things are different now. Way different. So shouldn’t our approach to bullying be, too?
We’ve changed. The school environment has changed. Kids have changed. Our policies need to keep pace to protect their emotional and psychological safety, too. Right? I would argue policies that protect emotional and psychological safety may go a long way to protect physical safety, too.
Like, we know now that trans fat and second-hand smoke are bad, so we’ve changed recipes and told smokers to go outside. Why aren’t we doing the same for the way kids interact with each other?
Every school needs a digital code of conduct. That’s what I’m saying.
There needs to be a standard of behavior established, and yes, it should include things that happen before or after the school bell rings. Why?
Because it bleeds over. And, because it’s all trackable now. Social media bullying is able to be captured and verified in ways traditional bullying (meaning: the kind today’s parents grew up with) couldn’t. And isn’t it just good practice?
Do we want to raise unbridled assholes who have no respect for boundaries or courtesy or empathy for their fellow human? Where will we be? We’ve seen the studies of social media’s impact on today’s youth and if you’re a parent and you’re not concerned you’re not paying attention.
Kids are getting phones at 8 and 9 years old. They’re using technology that is way beyond their years and they’re using apps designed to hook them. And I think we all know that “involved parenting” lives on a broad spectrum. Some parents don’t give a shit, about anything.
Instead of addressing certain behaviors, they choose denial which essentially enables the behavior to continue. I’ve seen it first hand and it still hurts my stomach.
If a school isn’t allowed to address what’s happening outside of school, it handicaps them in managing what is brought to school. Thanks to technology, there is no hard line between school and home anymore. It is dangerously short-sighted to believe anything different.
Athletes are familiar with codes of conduct. They have to agree to them before the start of a season. Keep up your grades, don’t get in trouble, yada, yada.
If coaches can institute behavioral expectations through a code of conduct that includes on-campus and off-campus activities, why then can’t administrators institute the same kind of thing for the entire student body?
That’s a real question. I need to understand why it can’t happen, today. There’s no reason that I can see.
Kids need to know adults are watching. And they need to know those adults will do something about ugly behavior whether it happens on the playground, in the cafeteria, on the bus or while their selfie-view camera is recording a new TikTok.
Even if their parents won’t.