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.
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.
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.
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
To follow my son Andrew’s inspiring story, “Like” his special Facebook page Andrew Peterson Goes for the Gold