Some of you may have seen that my little girl, Phoenix, recently had an issue with consent, assault, and bullying at her school. I don’t want to get into too many details of the actual situation, but I think what happened warrants a discussion and a conversation among all parents and how these situations are handled. It honestly shook me to my core, left me feeling helpless, and made me want to hold my kids even tighter.
Phoenix told me that a boy at her school, who was older and bigger than her, held her down, sat on her, choked her with both hands, and had other boys bite her wrists and elbows. While I do understand roughhousing and playing (I have five brothers – we grew up rough!), this was a situation that I could tell crossed that line. I spoke to the school, but the school’s stance was that they were “pretend biting.” I’m not a therapist, I’m not an expert, I’m just a parent who wants to do the right thing for my kids. And I believe one of those things is to discuss consent, assault, and bullying with our kids so that they aren’t the ones taking part in that behavior, or falling victim to it.
I think it’s important to teach our kids about appropriate ways to play with other kids, and what to do if someone else is hurting them. I’m not an expert, but I try to teach my kids to be kind and respectful. A lot of these things start at home, and even just teaching your kids to stop playing if their friend, sibling, cousin, etc. tells them to stop can create positive correlations about consent in the long term. The second thing is to teach kids to tell an adult when they are being touched without consent, hurt by someone else, or bullied physically or emotionally. If we teach them, we are helping them to navigate appropriate behavior.
The school didn’t believe my daughter, but I did. They said that they believe “her perception” of the situation is real to her, but that because of conflicting witness and participant statements, the behavior did not break the district’s bullying policies. I hold onto the hope that because I took her seriously, even if the school didn’t, that she will still feel safe enough to speak up in the future if anything ever happens again. However, if your child comes to you (or any adult) with a concern about consent, assault, or bullying and they aren’t believed, it teaches them not to come forward. It teaches them that their feelings on the situation weren’t valid. And it teaches the children who were taking part in the bullying that they can get away with hurting another child if no one was around to see it.
Believing them is a huge step, and the next step is finding resources to help them. Maybe that is having a discussion about being in charge of their bodies, validating their decision to come forward, and how to stand up for themselves. Maybe it’s deciding to have them see a therapist who will have all the right tools to help them navigate these issues (if you are local to Idaho, Hillary Cooke at Idaho Trauma and Wellness is a child counselor who is wonderful and I would recommend). Even if it’s just giving them a little more time and attention if they don’t want to talk about it, it can make a big impact on their ability to understand that they did the right thing by coming forward. I was hoping the school would do more to help Phoenix, but since they didn’t, it’s up to me to help her through that situation. I’m trying to go to school to visit her at lunch often to help be there for her.
Stand Up For Yourself and Your Friends by Patti Kelley Criswell , C is for Consent by Eleanor Morrisson, and Let’s Talk About Body Boundaries, Consent and Respect by Janeen Sanders are all great books if you’re looking for more teaching resources to help your kids with this topic.
When words, books, meetings, and lessons don’t make the impact you want them to, your love for them will. We should all love our kids enough to teach them right from wrong, and to hold them accountable if they are doing the wrong thing. Loving them doesn’t mean making excuses for them, it means doing the hard thing and teaching them how to be good people. We should also love our kids enough to believe them when they come forward about being hurt or bullied, physically or emotionally. That way we can help to keep them safe, and to give them the tools they will need to navigate these situations in the future.
When I opened up about this issue on social media, I was flooded with responses from all of you. Some gave advice, and some just sent love and well wishes to me and my daughter. Lincoln became very protective of his little sister, and I hugged my girl a little tighter. I’m so thankful for all the responses. The issue isn’t resolved yet, but in the meantime I’m working towards having some impactful teaching moments about consent, assault, and bullying with both my kids.
Have you ever experienced a situation like this with your kids? How did you handle it?
P.S. I have a new challenge coming out on October 1st, and it’s a Challenge that can mold to whatever goal you’re trying to accomplish. Whatever promise you’re trying to keep to yourself. For this challenge, I’m going to have parenting goals be an aspect of this challenge for me personally. This way I can focus on helping my kids through this type of bullying. If you’re interested in implementing parenting into your goals for October, learn more about my 21 Day Challenge HERE