Adults Bullying Kids in Their Care

Surely my 17-year-old son was mistaken.

To retrieve his book bag after school one day, I had to see the principal – and pay $5.00. Off to his office I went, only to find the ridiculous story true. 

That morning my absent-minded, somewhat-attached son forgot to put the book bag in his locker. Again. So the principal searched it – hoping to discover contraband. Nothing found but a Pre-Calculus textbook, a graphing calculator, a dozen pens with the chewed caps and a huge wad of old papers blanketing the bottom.

Not the way to build trust when a child bears early trauma scars.

I asked the principal for the bag a second time, since my son had math homework to complete. But he refused without the payment. In other words, I owed him “rent” for keeping it in his office all day.

silhouette teen boy

With no cash on me, I shook my head in disbelief at the power play unfolding. The principal’s condescending tone – which my son had endured over the past two years – was now aimed at me.

Meanwhile, my son’s belongings hadn’t moved from their location on the floor. After promising to honor the “debt” upon return the following the morning, I finally had the bag in hand.

Clearly this incident crossed the line.

An adult in a position of authority abused his power. Created his own rules and enforced them. Intimidated a student and a parent.

Bullied – plain and simple.

Sadly, I had encountered similar situations in the past.

There was the psychiatrist who increasingly belittled another son during his appointments – finally to tears one afternoon. When he flatly refused to ever see her again on the way home, I tried to reassure him. Yet his insecurities overflowed. Re-traumatized.  After he went into a rage in the car, I had to protect him.

Luckily I had a choice.

Within several days I found a new doctor who would take our insurance. For the next five years, he never shamed my son for his mental health challenges – nor blamed me for causing them.

But not all negative encounters with “professionals” can be easily resolved.

Take the privately-contacted, middle school speech therapist. Rather than recognizing that my son – with an intellectual disability from FASD – needed a nurturing approach, she repeatedly accused him of not trying. And not in a very nice way. Abrupt. Mean-spirited. Threatening.

Soon he shut down completely. In turn, the therapist insisted that my son was incapable of further progress. Plateaued.

Not worth her time.

Seeing that more harm than good was being done, I asked for services to stop – although that meant no speech therapy for my son.

How unfortunate! For six years in elementary school, a dedicated speech therapist accomplished the opposite. She brought out his best. She made him feel safe. Because my son felt good about himself, he made significant gains in language development.

And never caused a problem.

silhouette teen girl

No doubt, parents know best. They see the fall-out from adults who bully. Their kids lose motivation – perhaps interest altogether in something that previously was positive. They grow anxious. Become withdrawn. Have trouble sleeping. Might even self-harm.

The adult bully might be a coach, teacher, therapist, doctor, family member or neighbor – people who should be trusted.

Keep in mind that adult bullying often takes place when children or teens are isolated. Few or no witnesses.

In far too many cases, the bullying goes from bad to worse.

That brings me back to the principal who charged me the $5.00. He continued to taunt my son – even though he had some of the highest standardized test scores in his class. No encouragement. Only shame. Obviously, not one of his favorites who could do no wrong.

Later he went after my youngest son – also FASD and early trauma – until I transferred him to another school. There he felt supported for his final two years and graduated on time. 

Why did I wait so long?

In the meantime, a handful of the best teachers feel devalued and left. 

So much for creating a trauma-sensitive school.

As for the principal, he continued his bullying ways for years – in spite of a growing number of disgruntled parents who tried but never found their voice. Then he allegedly misused school funds and crossed the wrong person. Whether he resigned or was forced to resign, the action was final.

Gone for good.

At last.

Holding adults accountable truly matters.  DCP

P. S. Tucked away in an envelope is my 2010 cancelled check for $5.00 – with the words “rent for Peterson book bag” on the memo line. Just in case I ever need proof!


Craig Peterson publishes EACH Child every Tuesday. To subscribe, open this link and “Like” the page. EACH Child is Special: Working Smarter Not Harder to Raise Every ONE

To learn more about Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love, Craig’s soon-to-published memoir about raising six children with special needs, click here: Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love

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2 thoughts on “Adults Bullying Kids in Their Care

  1. I have three distinct memories of bullying of my children by teachers. And this is NOT to teacher bash, as I worked at a school too.
    1. Our son was in 2nd grade and cried that he didn’t want to go to school. My teacher doesn’t like boys he would say.
    He was a sweet boy…but I saw him becoming more and more anxious about school. I made a conference with his teacher and figured there was some sort of misunderstanding….. To my shock, she said, “I yell at him, I can’t stand boys. It isn’t him it is me.”
    I was in disbelief and told her that the imprint she is putting on children is going to stay with them the rest of their lives!

    2. Our 2nd son, who has cerebral palsy but could walk and run a little bit, (except for typical falling down) had a great report card EXCEPT in P.E. In fact, his conduct was a poor in P.E. and A’s in everything else. He had been complaining that the teacher was “kicking him out of the game” unfairly because he fell down.
    I made a conference, and once again to my shock, she replied, “Yes I tell him he’s kicked out of the game. I don’t think he belongs IN the game.” She was rude and obnoxious about her belief that my son was not worthy in 4thgrade to be in her class and she encouraged the children to bully him.

    3. Our youngest son, that same year was crying about going to school 2 x’s a week. I found a pattern and asked him, “Sweetie, what class do you have today that you don’t like?” He replied, ART…
    “You don’t like ART?”
    “No, the teacher yells at me and I got sat in the hall!”
    “Why did you get sat in the hall?”
    “Because I put a big kitty head on a little kitty body!”
    I made an appointment.
    Once again, and honestly I don’t know why I was shocked….. She said, “Yes, that is what happened.”
    I was like, He is the sweetest kindest little first grader in the world!
    Her reply, “He didn’t follow my directions!”

    Needless to say, we homeschooled after this.

  2. Time after time the sped teachers tell stories of our boy’s misbehavior. But digging into the situation often reveals that he was set up to fail, then shamed. Such as being given a ball then told not to play with it. Other children encouraged to tell him to stop. Thank goodness his general ed teachers understand trauma. Now I just need to get services provided in the classroom.

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