My daughter has been coming home from middle school with tales of being the target of unpleasant attention by a particular boy who boasts about hurting people, threatens to hurt her, makes comments about her physical appearance, and pushes her. Is he just a socially awkward kid who only needs a stern talking-to or is he a pre-teen creep heading towards a lifetime of harassment of women?
When my daughter first told us about the situation, she said that she wanted to try to deal with the problem herself first. She spent a lot of time thinking about the best way to calmly tell him what the major problems were and how things needed to change. She talked to him but the problems continued.
The next step was for my daughter to apprise the teacher of the problem. The class in which the problems were occurring involved some unsupervised time during which my daughter was sent off with her 'team' (the problem boy, who is actually 2 grades ahead of her, and another kid, who is frequently absent owing to illness) on various excursions around the school. There were many opportunities for the boy to display a wide array of unpleasant behavior out of range of the teacher. The teacher therefore had no idea what was going on.
So she told the teacher, but she didn't want to make a big deal out of it and she only mentioned vaguely that she was having a problem with one of her teammates, and the teacher said something vague in reply and took no action. In the next class, my daughter was again sent off alone with this boy on various excursions around the school. The problems recurred.
She wanted to try again to talk to the teacher, being more specific this time, but at this point my husband and I decided it was time for parental intervention. The types of things this boy was saying and doing had us worried, as was the relentless nature of his unpleasant behavior. We were unable to arrange a meeting with the relevant teacher, but we talked to two other teachers.
They were great. They leaped into (administrative) action and told her that they respected her for speaking up. They told her that the school has zero tolerance for this type of behavior, which they consider sexual harassment because some of the incidents were specifically related to gender. They told her she was brave and mature for how she had handled the situation.
I know that the school will also try to help the boy, rather than just punish him.
This situation has apparently been resolved, but the fact that it happened at all is sad.
Something that is interesting about this, though, is that my daughter's primary reaction has been anger. She has been to dozens of "bully awareness" workshops over the years, and apparently these focus on kids who blame themselves for being bullied and who feel anxious about complaining. These kids may become withdrawn and fearful. My daughter says that this didn't describe at all how she felt; she felt extremely angry and she didn't know how to deal with this anger.
One possibility is that her anger stemmed from her feeling powerless to stop the harassment on her own. She appreciates that the teachers supported her and took actions that solved the major problem, but she hated not being able to deal with the situation herself. She likes to talk and debate and argue about things, and it was frustrating for her that she could not convince this boy to treat her with respect.
One of the great things that the teachers did, once apprised of the problem, is to make her feel that she solved the problem by speaking out. I think that was very important and gave my daughter a good perspective on how a supportive community can try to solve problems like this.
9 years ago