Don’t you hate it when you have to eat your words? Today was one of those days. I had to take my own advice and I hated it.
As usually happens, an administrator plopped a kid in my office and wanted me to see why he was fighting so much lately. He is a 7th grade boy and had just gotten into a fight in the middle of class. The kid tells me that it’s because he’s being teased. I know this kid from last year, and he is, in fact, a teaser as well. So I could easily imagine how words were exchanged, words escalated to yelling, and then (since words are the gateway drug to fighting), kids started shoving each other. This was, in essence, what happened.
Oh clever Ph.D.! I will utilize you today to change this child! I made the kid do a “Responsibility Pie” to see how much of the conflict he owned and how much the other kid owned. He started out with 99% other kid’s fault, 1% his, but we talked about it more and he ended up giving himself a fair slice of pie, about 25%. We talked about teasing. I gave him permission to use foul language if needed, to tell me what the kids were calling him. To my surprise, the trigger for this “tough kid” to fight was that the kids called him Nemo. Yes, as in the fish. I asked him if when they called him that, did he grow gills, hop in the sink, and start eating fish food? He laughed and said, “No” and we talked about how “Just because someone calls you something, it doesn’t make you that.” I was pretty proud of my shrewd counseling skills at this point. Since I was on a roll, we brainstormed other ways to react to teasing (e.g. ignoring in the same way you ignore rude MySpace people because then they tend to stop, making a bully-deflecting joke, etc etc.). And I sent my kid on his merry way, with the statement, “Try out some of these things today and let me know if any of them work!”
I think you know where this story is going. I left my office for my next kiddo and I overhear one of my counselee’s say %#$%ing bleeeeeepidy bleeeeeep $%^$%^$% to a group of his 8th grade friends.* Out of instinct, I broke my cardinal rule of not reprimanding 8th grade boys in a group. If anyone has tried this, it is a lose-lose situation because the kid is far more invested in looking cool than listening to whatever you just said. The following is a painful transcript of me getting teased by a group of 8th grade boys:
My kid: %#$%ing bleeeeeepidy bleeeeeep $%^$%^$%
Me: I need you to use respectful language in school
My kid: (to my surprise) Okay, sorry.
Random 8th grade boy: $%^& you, dumbass bitch! (laughter erupts)
Me: That is not appropriate language for school. (turns and walks away)
Random 8th grade boy of unknown location: Puta!
Me: (whipping around) That is not appropriate. I know Spanish! (turns and walks away)
Croud of 8th grade boys: Puta! Puta! Puta!
Yeah, that’s right. I ignored them. And it sucked. But I knew that no matter how long I stayed in that interaction, I would not win that one. I couldn’t find the kid who said it, and they were really enjoying seeing me whip around and be horrified at their disrespect.
10 minutes later, I thought of all kinds of bully-deflating remarks. *sigh*
*I always have this internal battle with myself about when to ignore and when to intervene. In general, if the language is garden variety cursing, I let it go. If it’s sexist, racist, or homophobic, I intervene. It was one of the latter.