The Old Normal, and the Imperative of Self-Defense Training for Women

In light of the countless high-profile assault charges recently meted I challenge us, individually, collectively, indivisibly, to say no. To scream no.

I was “date raped” in college. I put that in quotes because I wasn’t on a date at all. We were merely friends, or so I thought, and he had offered to escort me home after a late-night party. He was an upperclassman, a leader in our social house, respected by all accounts and ostensibly charged with the task of getting me home safely.
Instead, he brought me to his room.
The feeling that sticks with me more than any other when I look back on that experience is the shame I feel for not having done a better job of preventing it.
I blame him, too, of course, for his calculated coercion tactics (“Let me walk you back to your dorm. It’s late.”) and his psychological maneuvering (“Here, we can just snuggle…” and not long after, “You know you want this, Jill.”).
A rugby player, he was significantly brawnier than me, and back then, I didn’t know my own strength or many tools for how to use it. When he didn’t appear to hear my protests, the following notion flickered at the edges of my jangled, buzzing mind: Resist and you could instigate him further … submit and, with luck, it’ll be over quickly.
So why do I still carry the bulk of the blame 20 years later? I’m not entirely sure, but I have a few theories….
First, I have reduced this person in my mind to the basest of characters, a coarse operative, if you will, a 20th century equivalent of the nefarious Shakespearean rogue who somehow plants himself at the right hand of the King. How can you require anything, let alone decent behavior on the most basic level, from someone so odious and depraved? He is a victim of his own awfulness. He must be sickening to himself, I tell myself. We can’t expect anything from people like this, so we expect everything from ourselves instead.
Here’s how this plays out in my mind: You see, I could have taken some right action along the way. I could have had one less drink. I could have been smarter. I could have predicted and therefore prevented the assault. How ridiculous and innocent I was! How stupid and naïve! How blind.
While those things could be true of every young, trusting undergrad, this misappropriation of guilt makes me feel less the victim somehow. It helps me take back some control. It helps me believe that I will be the one in control next time, should there be a next time. I know now that I wouldn’t give a second thought to acting “unpleasant” or “making a scene,” even though society constantly reminds us that it’s “unbecoming” for a woman to get angry.
Second, I believe that each person in any kind of relationship makes up half the equation. If you’re annoyed with your partner for being irritable, think on how your behavior exacerbates his impatience. You’re angry with a friend for not considering your feelings? When was the last time you considered hers? If your child is non-communicative, what could you do to help him feel he can talk to you? While it’s easy to heap blame on others, I do my best to own my role in every interaction, whether I’m the one who’s hurt or doing the hurting.
So how does this compute when the “hurt” is rape?
It doesn’t (I repeat over and over to myself). It is not your fault if someone abuses you. You didn’t “ask for it,” whatever you happened to be doing with your hips, like moving them when you walk, which is kinetically necessary as far as I’m concerned. You didn’t toss your head back in laughter to show him your bare neck. You did it because you thought something was funny.
And no, the abuse you’ve suffered has nothing to do with how carefully you considered your reputation – my girlhood warning to avoid emitting a sexual selfhood of any perceptible or desirable kind.
Which brings me to the third, and perhaps most difficult self-inflicted guilt-wad to deal with: the memory of my father’s reaction to the incident. I told my parents voluntarily because rape felt like less of a personal shortcoming if I could talk openly about it with the people who love me the most and had worked so hard to raise me well. I would feel like I had betrayed them less if I could tell them and have them understand and still accept me, regardless.
Of course, my father was deeply worried for me, as any normal father would be, and spitting mad at the upperclassman (I remember watching his knuckles whitening as his fists clenched and unclenched involuntarily). But in his state of shock and confusion, the words he managed to conjure up came in the form of a question: “How could you put yourself in this position?”
Oh god, how? I thought in a panic. I’ve failed them. I’ve failed at being a strong woman on my first go-round, my first chance at proving myself worthy of respect and dignity and real, untainted, caring love. I’ve ruined myself. It’s over.
I wanted to crawl inside a hole.
Despite all the shame, I talked candidly to the nurses at the college infirmary about my experience and made myself available to any other students who had suffered through abuse, on campus or in life. I figured that if we could sit together in the pain, at least we would not be alone. And while the option was presented to me, I decided not to press charges. That admired, affable upperclassman’s friends and family were, and are, none the wiser.
I am fine with that. Because I am wiser now.
In light of the countless high-profile assault charges recently meted – and to shine a light on a systemic cultural sickness that we all knew was there long before the avalanche of allegations came crashing down – I challenge us, individually, collectively, indivisibly, to say no. To scream no louder and louder and louder and louder until we are finally heard and the perpetrators back the fuck off.
We must dismiss anything that insults our own souls until our souls are fully restored. We must break the chain of sexual discrimination and violence against women and children and anyone perceived as lesser or different or weak – a chain that’s made up of centuries of generational links of learned hostility, social exclusion, androcentrism, patriarchal privilege, and sexual objectification.
We do this through sound parenting and education and programs that support socioeconomic equity. But we also do it by fighting back, by taking the attacker by surprise with a palm thrust to the nose and a knee to the groin, by shocking the playground bully with a scrappy uppercut to the jaw. We’ve been fighting for a long time, of course, and we will continue to fight until a woman no longer shoulders the blame for a man’s reprehensible behavior.
We clearly have a long way to go. Prominent elected officials and so-called “civil servants” commit and even brag about sexual assault and somehow manage to retain their positions. The Women’s Action Team in Brattleboro, Vermont, galvanized in the fall of 2016 “with the explicit purpose of advancing reproductive justice and combating rape culture and misogyny,” said filmmaker and photographer Willow O’Feral in an interview on Vermont Public Radio’s Morning Edition.
“(W)e are here to say, ‘we are not going to take this,’” she continued. “‘We are fighting back.’” O’Feral’s latest film, “Break The Silence”, features women talking about their reproductive and sexual health histories. Proceeds from the film will support a transportation fund that helps minors gain access to Planned Parenthood’s medical support and abortion services.
I recently worked with my sons’ taekwondo teacher to organize a women’s self-defense class. When I polled my online network to gauge interest, the response was enormous – astounding, really, for a loosely populated northeastern state known for its happiness index and high quality of life. Dozens and dozens of women responded, admitting they’d been searching for opportunities to build these skills, to feel safer, to know they would have what it takes in case … just in case.
Last weekend, nine women managed to carve four hours out of their Sunday to attend. One of them was my mother, who has been reeling from an unsettling encounter with one of the night watchmen at her continuing care facility. We each had our nervous tics, our hurdles, our fear-facing moments, our breakthroughs, but no one practiced those maneuvers with as much vigor as my mom.
I don’t think I will ever forget the sight of her, a 100-pound spitfire of a 76-year-old grandma, feet planted firmly on the floor, her small arms raised, palms front in the universal gesture of defense. “Back off! I don’t know you! Go away!!” she shouted. “Back off! Back off! Back off!! BACK!!! OFF!!!” Over and over in a voice so angry and adrenaline-tinged that I hardly recognized it as hers.
At last, the instructor (playing the advancing attacker), stopped and backed away.
When it was over, my mother stood there visibly shaking, her eyes ablaze with fight and fury. It was as though she was rooted to the spot, riveted by the specter of her own power. Slowly and very gently, the instructor came to her, kneeled in front of her, and took her hand.
“You won,” she said, with a tenderness that dredged a sob from the pit of my gut. “He left. He’s gone. You won.”

It Would Have Been Better If Kevin Hadn't Come

I think all parents worry that one of their kids is being shortchanged in some way. This fear increases exponentially when you have a special needs child.

I think all good parents worry that one of their children is being shortchanged in some way. This fear increases exponentially when you have a special needs child.
Some days it feels as though everything is about Kevin – keeping him calm, keeping him happy, or keeping him from harming himself and us. There’s not a day, not a single moment, that I don’t worry my girls are being cheated.
We just returned from Universal Studios in Orlando Florida, and what an amazing place, especially for families with disabled children. We were able to bypass all the lines and, not only did the staff allow Kevin to choose his seat on every ride, they weathered each of his outbursts as if it was nothing out of the ordinary.
I planned this trip over a year ago for Dana. It was all for her. Dana is a bonafide “Harry Potter” junky, and I couldn’t be more proud of my self-proclaimed “nerd.” She has sorted each of us into our prospective “houses.” Chris, Papa, Kevin, and I are Hufflepuffs, Godmommy and Dana are Ravenclaws, and Kayla and Grammy are Gryffindors.
I know it won’t last. Puberty is just around the corner and, before I blink, I know the robe, wand, Ravenclaw T-shirts, and Marauder’s Map will be replaced with lipstick, Teen Vogue, and God knows what else. They told me years ago to hang on to every precious moment but, like many parents, I didn’t listen until two years ago when I finally saw her childhood slipping through my fingers.
Two years ago (she was 10), I thought Dana still believed in Santa Claus. I figured it would be the last year, so I planned a vacation to Disney World on Christmas Day. When the kids woke up, the only things under the tree were suitcases and an agenda written by Santa to Dana detailing every moment of the trip. It was all for her – this last Christmas I thought she believed.
We had a great time, but when we got home, Dana sat me down and said, “Mommy, I know it was you. I wanted to believe, but deep down, I knew it was you. Thank you.”
It was one of those moments when you can actually hear your heart break. She knew I did it all for her, she knew I loved her, but my baby didn’t believe in magic anymore. I became cognizant of every moment I’d lost, because I was so busy with Kevin.
This time I wanted things to be different. “Okay,” I thought. “She doesn’t believe in Santa, but she still believes in wizards and witches, so the magic isn’t gone!” This time, I let her plan everything down to the last detail and spent way more money than I should have, but it would all be worth it because for once, everything would be about Dana and what she wanted. For once, my darling girl wouldn’t be in second or third place.
We got home yesterday and, all in all, it was a great trip. But there were moments that nearly crushed me. Everything with Kevin is hard. There were meltdowns in the park where he hit us, screamed at us, bit us, and pulled our hair. There was a tantrum in a restaurant that silenced the whole place. It seemed a thousand eyes were bearing down on us with either pity or disdain.
There was the day he didn’t make it to the toilet in time and pooped all over the bathroom floor, and Dana had to bar the entrance to the men’s room while I cleaned the mess and Chris found new clothes.
I’ve taught my daughters to be honest about what our life is like, but sometimes the truth hurts. For example, our first day in was rough. Kevin was confused, overstimulated, and extremely agitated. After dinner, he finished his desert and then demanded Kayla give him hers. When she refused, he started screaming and hitting her.
Dana’s godmother, who isn’t used to seeing him meltdown like that, politely suggested we bring him outside, and Dana responded with, “Oh you’re embarrassed? Seriously?! Welcome to my life. I deal with this every day.”
Ouch. I’d never heard her say anything like that before. But it was the cold, hard truth, and I understood exactly how she felt.
Our last day we spent swimming in the pool. Chris and I were holding Dana when Kayla swam over to us. (Kevin was with Grammy.) We each put a girl on our back, and Kayla said, half-jokingly, “It’s like we’re a perfect family!”
Translation: We’d be a perfect family if only we didn’t have Kevin.
Then there was the day I caught Dana’s Godmother and my mother talking about me. “I heard you two!” I said jokingly. “What are you saying behind my back?”
But my mother put her head down as if making a confession and said, “I was just saying how, sometimes, when Kevin explodes like this, I just have to walk away it’s so hurtful to watch. I hurt for you and for him, and I just have to get away.”
Ouch, ouch, double ouch.
As wonderful as the late night talks with Dana’s Godmother were, one night she confessed to me, “You have a very hard life. I wouldn’t want it for myself.”
I must have asked Dana a million times in four days, “Is it everything you dreamed it would be?” Every time she replied with something along the lines of, “It is, Mommy, it really is, and if Kevin wasn’t here it would be perfect.”
I can remember thinking, “You know, Dana, all the honesty I’ve heard this week didn’t hurt quite enough. How about we get some lemon juice or salt or something?”
Which begs the question: “Rachel, have you done the right thing encouraging the girls (and everyone else you love) to be honest about their feelings? Shouldn’t you be responding to all these comments with something along the lines of, “Don’t say that about Kevin!”
Maybe.
I’m sure there are those who would say I’ve made a mistake allowing my girls to speak so freely about their feelings and thoughts, but you know what? They don’t have to live the way we do. We’ve had to survive things most people can’t imagine. So yes, we live by our own set of rules over here, and part of that is admitting you’d rather not get slapped in the face in line for “The Hulk” because Kevin wants to go first or telling strangers they can’t go into the bathroom right now because Mommy is busy cleaning poop off the floor.
My girls speak some harsh truths, truths heavy with anger and resentment, but we’ve all learned something the hard way: When you speak those truths, it sets you free to love when loving seems impossible.
I can’t count how many times (after she said she hated him) the following conversation took place.
Kevin: “I hit you!”
Dana: With all the empathy and patience in the world, “Please don’t hurt me?”
Kevin: “I want to!”
Dana: “Okay, Kevin, if it will make you feel better, you can hit me.”
Kevin: “Sawney.”
Dana: “It’s okay, thank you for making the right choice. Let’s go on another ride, you can go first!”
And Kayla, who said we’d be the perfect family if only it weren’t for Kevin and took more physical abuse than any of us, returned every blow with a firm hug while softly whispering, “It’s okay, buddy, I’m here, I’m right here,” as she held him.
What is it she always says? Oh yes: “Bad thoughts and feelings are like weeds, Mommy. You can’t pretend they’re not there. Pull them out by the root and let them die, or they’ll kill everything you’ve worked so hard to make beautiful.”
So we’re home now. Kevin has been so peaceful and pleasant all day, obviously relieved to be where things are familiar. I ask Dana to sit in my lap, and she agrees, which is rare. She’s almost 13 now, and sitting in Mom’s lap is sooooooooooooooooo not cool.
Me: “Why did we go to Universal?”
Dana: “Because you love me, and I love Harry Potter.”
Me: “What was your favorite part?”
Dana: “Getting my Godmother all to myself in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley.”
Me: “Was it just like you dreamed?”
Dana: “Better.”
Me: “Do you still wish Kevin hadn’t come?”
Dana: “No, I was just mad. Sometimes you have to let yourself be mad or you’ll never be happy, right?”
Me: “Right. I’m sorry he takes up so much of my attention.”
Dana: “It’s okay. He takes up a lot of everyone’s attention, even mine.”
Me: “I love you.”
Dana: “I love you more.”
Me: “Not possible.”
We’re home. Dana is in her Ravenclaw robe, wand in hand, re-reading “The Order of The Phoenix” while munching on a chocolate frog. Her friend just texted to ask how the vacation went, and she replies, “The best time I’ve ever had in my whole life.”

My Kid Sabotaged My Dreams of Making Friends With the Cool Dad

From across the room, I saw I him. He was wearing a Stone Temple Pilots’ T-shirt – and not just any STP tee. It was an authentic early tour shirt.

Emma squeezed my hand tightly, moved closer, and used her free hand to wrap herself around my leg.
I know how my one-year-old daughter felt. If there was a giant, friendly man standing next to me at that moment, I probably would have wrapped my spare arm around his thigh just like Emma.
Emma and I were standing in the library waiting for story time to begin. All around us were little groups of moms and little groups of children, and neither of these groups appeared to be welcoming any new members.
All the moms were dressed casually, but meticulously, in new, top-of-the line workout gear, and they all wore yoga pants. Did this story time have a dress code? Was I supposed to wear yoga pants? Did they even make yoga pants for men? Should I have just taken Emma to the park again?
These were some of the questions I was pondering when he walked in.
He was a late-30s/early-40s dad with a toddler boy attached to his loosely dangling arm. From across the room, I saw he was wearing a Stone Temple Pilots’ T-shirt – and not just any STP tee. He was wearing an authentic tour shirt, one from an early tour the boys did with the Meat Puppets and Jawbox. This dude was a legitimate fan. If he was even a quarter as passionate about the music of Scott Weiland, Robert and Dean DeLeo, and Eric Kretz as I was, I’d knew we’d wind up being best friends.
A brief note about my obsession with the criminally underrated 90s rock band the Stone Temple Pilots (aka, STP) and my beautiful wife Liz: My intense love for STP is beyond annoying to my wife, and it’s a big part of the reason Liz hates the band, a band she probably would’ve only mildly disliked if she hadn’t met me. This comes into play later.
“I’m so glad I didn’t take Emma to the park,” I thought, as I subtly tried to get STP Dad’s attention. When our eyes eventually met, I gestured for him to come over with all the subtly of an air traffic controller inviting a commercial aircraft to enter the runway.
After the necessary info was exchanged (His name was James, his kid’s name was Jeremy, and he and his wife were new to the area), I got down to it.
“So, I gotta ask … the shirt, are you actually a fan or did you get it at a thrift store or something?”
“Are you kidding me?” James asked, incredulous. “STP is my favorite band.”
“You’re fucking with me, right?” I exclaimed, loud enough for a couple of moms nearby to stop their conversation and stare disapprovingly at me. “I’ve seen STP more than 20 times.”
“27 for me!” James said. “I actually used to date this photographer who worked with the band. She broke up with because she thought I was more in love with Scott Weiland than her. I even played bass in an STP cover band called ‘Sour Guys.’ I know, the name was supposed to be stupid.”
“I play guitar!” I practically screamed. “This is so crazy. Sometimes when I drink too much red wine, I’ll watch old YouTube videos of their Rolling Rock Town Fair show and pause it to try and find myself in the crowd so I can see what I looked like on the happiest day of my life.”
“That’s actually really sad, dude,” James said, but in a joking, good-natured kind of way.
“And this dude is funny, too! I have to get his number,” I thought.
Just then, STP Dad’s little one looked at me and waved.
I waved back. “Hey buddy, those are some cool shoes you have on,” I said to the kid.
“They’re Chuck Taylor Slip Ons,” James answered. “I was gonna get him Crocs, but I just couldn’t bring myself to actually pay for a pair of those hideous, hideous shoes. Know what I’m saying?”
I nodded while desperately trying to use my leg to shield my own daughter’s pink Crocs from James’ view. I made a mental note to take off her shoes during story time, and put them in the diaper bag.
Emma and I sat next to James and Jeremy during story time.
While the grouchy volunteer reader with the smoker’s cough rushed through the standards and fantasized about her next cigarette, I envisioned my future with James. I pictured us jamming in James’ basement on Friday evenings, or waving goodbye to our concerned wives and children as we embarked on a mini-road trip to Cincinnati to see the preeminent Stone Temple Pilots cover band of our generation, STP2, or even jamming with the DeLeos, after Rob, the sensitive brother, responded to my impassioned letter about my serendipitous meeting with James.
When story time was over, James and I continued our interrupted conversation while our kids played with the hodge-podge of toys that were spread out around the children’s section.
I was trying to think of the best way to ask for James’ number, when he broached the subject himself.
“Hey man, we should hang out some time,” he started.
What happened next took place in slow motion. Emma and Jeremy had been playing tug of war with a toy school bus when Jeremy gained the upper hand and ripped the bus right from Emma’s grasp. In a fit of rage, Emma picked up a sizeable toy fire truck to her right, launched it at Jeremy and connected squarely with his face.
Both kids immediately started screaming, and James and I rushed to tend to our inconsolable toddlers. For his part, James wasn’t pissed, but I could tell the opportunity to exchange numbers had passed. On his way out, I saw him catch a glance at Emma’s Crocs (How did I forget to take them off!) and knew James and I wouldn’t be taking any road trips to see STP2 together.
Even at such a young age, I can already see parts of my wife and parts of myself in little Emma. The part that sabotaged my shot at having a lifelong friendship with a dude who’s arguably as into STP as I am by smashing a toy truck into his son’s face, well, there’s no doubt that part came from my wife.

The Staggering New Stats Surrounding Kids and Gun Deaths

Fact: 1,300 American children are killed by guns each year, making firearm injuries the third leading cause of death among zero to 17-year-olds.

Fact: 1,300 American children are killed by guns each year, making firearm injuries the third leading cause of death among zero to 17-year-olds.
That grim finding is unfortunately not newsworthy. Excellent resources, like FiveThirtyEight’s Gun Deaths in America, already paint a sobering picture of the topic in the U.S. But fewer resources focus specifically on contextualizing childhood gun deaths. A new study in the July 2017 issue of “Pediatrics” identifies patterns in childhood firearm deaths and injuries in order to develop more targeted, scientific solutions.
The study suggests that some risk factors for gun death are relatively static. For example, firearm homicides for both age groups are concentrated in the South and the Midwest, while firearm suicides are more evenly distributed across the country. But many of the risk factors changed with age, prompting the researchers to split the data across two age groups.
 
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Young children (zero to 12 years) were most likely to be shot in their homes (85 percent). Half of gun-related incidents involving young children had more than one victim. The perpetrators of these shootings tended to be older; two-thirds of them were over 25 years old. Forty-two percent of the perpetrators committed suicide after shooting. The overall picture painted by shootings of children in this age group is about domestic violence and the children caught up in it.
Older children (13 to 17 years) killed by guns presented a much different picture. Children in this age group were about as likely to be shot in the streets (38 percent) as at home (39 percent). Eighty-three percent of these shootings had only one victim, and the perpetrators of homicides were much more likely to be the same age as the victims.
For this group, the rate of firearm homicides was roughly equal to the rate of firearm suicides. The overall picture of shootings in this age group is a bit murkier than that presented by the younger age group – a mix of violent crime and self-harm.
It’s reasonably simple to explain the increases in death and injury rates as children age as a result of different social and cultural factors. Violent crime, for example, is frequently identified as a main cause of firearm deaths among older children, especially older boys. The “Pediatrics” report suggests that’s not the whole story.
At all ages, boys were significantly more likely to be killed or injured by guns, representing a total of 82 percent of gun deaths and 84 percent of emergency room visits. Older boys were six times as likely to be killed by a gun than older girls. Younger boys were 4.5 times as likely to be killed by guns than younger girls. Older boys were also six times more likely to commit suicide using firearms.
Some of the most surprising findings of the study are related to unintentional firearm deaths, which represent a much lower overall proportion of deaths than is often assumed (six percent of all firearm deaths in children ages zero to 17).
Also surprising was that, contrary to popular belief, older children were twice as likely to be killed by unintentional firearm injury than younger children. The majority of unintentional gun deaths for both groups occurred in a home. About half of unintentional firearm deaths resulted from playing with a gun (60 percent for younger children, 49 percent for older children).
The authors conclude that this more patterned view of gun deaths and injuries is a “first step” in developing tailored solutions to reduce gun injuries in the pediatric population.
A second step, suggested by Eliot Nelson in a companion piece, might be for pediatricians to acknowledge imperfect adoption of their own policy that “the safest home is one without firearms.” Acknowledging that households will continue to have guns and focusing on gun storage, Nelson argues, may help prevent many of the unintentional deaths and possibly even suicides included in the Pediatrics study.

Everything I Needed to Know About Parenting, I Learned From the Gorillas at the Bronx Zoo

Observing the family taking up residence in the gorilla enclosure taught me a very important lesson about being an effective dad.

Many years ago, before kids were even on my life-radar, I visited the Bronx Zoo. I’ve always been enthralled by gorillas. Big, furry superhumans as far as I’m concerned. I never thought that these strange person-like beasts would teach me a lesson that would stick with me through all these years.
We were lucky enough on this visit to see three recently-born gorillas, in all their hairy baby weirdness, released to the “general population” for the first time. They adorably gripped each other in a securely unified sibling trinity, moving cautiously around the enclosure as one, three hairy heads swiveling in every direction, not quite sure what to make of it all, never letting go.
The female adults were milling about, keeping an eye on the little ones, and socializing among themselves.
Then there were the “teens.” Clearly older than the babies, but younger than the adult females, these rabble-rousers ran around, screaming, throwing stuff, and fighting with each other, as the adult females watched with what would have been rolling eyes, if gorillas rolled their eyes.
The father, a full-grown enormous Silverback, sat in the center-rear of the enclosure, in all his massive sedentary majesty, munching on a branch.
 
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I watched the scene for quite a while, fascinated by the actions of the babies, gorilladies and teens, but perhaps more so by the aggressive and sustained inaction of the patriarch. He just sat there, fat and awesome, oblivious to everything around him, munching a piece of Bronx foliage. If he’d ever had any fucks to give, he clearly no longer did.
Then, one of the teens decided to mess with the babies.
He apparently thought it would be fun to grab one apeling and try to separate it from the other two. The baby’s shrieks of terror indicated that it did not share this sentiment. The teen yanked at the baby, whose high-pitched wails got everyone’s attention, and some of the adult females moved in to intervene, but to no avail. As the teen persisted, the other two babies started screaming as well.
This is when the big Silverback stopped munching, and stood up.
With minimal speed, but great determination and gravitas, he rose, put down his snack, and looked at the miscreant teen. This is when the teen let go, and did a “wasn’t me” twirl/dance/run away from the babies and their now miffed and potentially mobile father. The teen pirouetted all the way to the far end of the enclosure, where he commenced wrestling with gorillas his own size. The three babies were holding each other securely once again, no longer screaming.
This is when the big guy sat back down, and calmly resumed his branch munching.
I stared in awe, as I imagine many of the other observing humans did. The teen’s dance was certainly funny, but it was the action, or lack thereof, by the big male that fascinated me most. Yes, he stood up, but I concluded that the only reason this minimal act had any effect whatsoever was that the hairy behemoth probably had done nothing for the previous 40 or 50 hours. While not a universally enviable example of effective fathering, there may be a lesson to be learned here. Sometimes doing less makes what you choose to do more effective. If you are constantly running around attempting to control your child’s behavior, discipline will become a perfunctory routine to both of you, as opposed to what it actually is, education. Recognizing that teachable moment in time, be it a rebellious teen bullying his hairy little brother or a testy seven-year-old not turning off the TV, and taking action to change the behavior of the individual who is not acting as they should.
The gorilla dad certainly changed the inappropriate behavior, and the teen learned to not pick on those smaller than you, because the same might happen to you. The dad also taught others in the enclosure a valuable lesson. The babies learned that if they are in trouble, Daddy will be there to protect them. In his own clumsy, oafish, gorilla dad way, he showed the three babies that he loved them.
I thought of something else while gazing through the twelve-inch thick gorilla-proof Plexiglas, another more controversial factor in family dynamics: the fear factor. Modern psychology and parenting advocate a punishment-free child-rearing environment, especially when it comes to physical punishment. The reasons behind this are good ones: A kid who only behaves himself out of fear of being hit by their parent isn’t learning effective long-term behavioral control, or real-world reasons for appropriate behavior. Your boss isn’t going to smack you on the bottom if you come to work four hours late, etc.
Furthermore, children who are hit learn to fear and not trust their parent. What kid would confide in a parent about bullying, drugs, sex, etc., if that parent strikes out physically when the child has done something to anger them? And finally, what kid would, or should, strive to emulate the behavior of a role model parent, if that “role model” is one who hits kids?
While your kids should not be physically punished by you, should they be afraid of you? Well, maybe. When the big gorilla stood up, that teen stopped manhandling the baby because of one thing: fear. In the teen gorilla’s case, it was certainly not for fear of losing “choice time” or being spoken to sternly. He stopped for fear of getting a gorilla beating. He may never have actually received one in his life, but still, a clear message was received: “Let go of the baby, or get your hairy butt whomped upon.” When that 500 lb monster stood up and no one knew exactly what he was about to do, something arose in every ape in that enclosure, and I dare say in some of those looking on as well. Fear.
I recently yelled at my kid. She’s five. She’s a great kid. I yelled a bit too loudly. I felt bad. I sat her down and calmly apologized. I thought of the gorillas, and remembered that fear is not to be taken lightly. It’s a dangerous parenting game. It can be effective, but must be handled with extreme selectivity and care. There is a fine line between discipline, and scaring the shit out of your kid. I surmised mine might be old enough for a little dad/daughter talk, to make us both feel better and move forward in a positive direction. I said, “Hey, I’m sorry I yelled at you. I’ll try to not do that. I want you to behave, but more importantly, I don’t want you to ever be afraid of me, because that’s no good for either of us, okay? Are you ever afraid of me? It’s okay if you are, but I’ll try to fix that.”
Her little face suddenly changed, from mildly interested five-year-old, to five-going-on-fifteen snide tween.
“Afraid?!” she said with full kindergarten-esque disdain and mockery. “I’m not afraid of you. You’re my Daddy!”
At this point, in a kid’s book, or Lifetime movie, the daughter throws her arms around her father’s neck and says, “I love you, Daddy.” In real life, mine got up and ran to her mother yelling and laughing with evil glee, “Momma! Daddy thinks I’m afraid of him! He’s my daddy! I’m not afraid of him! Haha! MOMMAAAA!!”
I’ve never been so happy to have my kid act like a completely disrespectful little jackhole.
That day at The Bronx Zoo, I learned that sometimes inaction is as important as action, and that a little wisely-placed fear never actually hurt anyone. Fast forward to putting that into direct parenting practice, I learned that if you pay close enough attention, the world lets you know, occasionally in the form of an obnoxious, confident and most definitely not afraid five-year-old girl laughing at your attempt at parenting, that you are doing okay.

I Let My Daughter Sit in the Car and a Stranger Called the Police

A trip to the department store with an over-tired post sleepover kid turned into a scary encounter we’ll remember for a lifetime.

This is what happened. On a rainy Wednesday morning in early June, one week into summer vacation, I picked up my 11-year-old daughter from a friend’s house, where she had spent the night, and the two of us headed south on the interstate toward the nearest Kohl’s, about 30 miles away, to shop for a bathing suit.
Kohl’s parking lot was nearly empty, so we pulled into the front space and ran, dodging puddles, to the entrance. The store was cold, with the air conditioners blasting regardless of the outside temperature, and my daughter started complaining immediately: “I’m tired, my legs hurt, I’m freezing, I can’t walk anymore. Can we leave? Why do we have to do this today? I’m freezing! My feet got wet. Can we leave? I’m tired…” And on and on. She and her friend had apparently followed summer sleepover protocol and stayed up all night.
“We drove all this way. We’re not leaving without a bathing suit,” I told her, flipping through a rack of Speedos, although as parent to a resolute 11-year-old knows, it’s hard to concentrate on projected growth spurts and chlorine resistance while being bombarded with negativity. I was not up for a battle of the wills. After looking for a place for her to sit down, which didn’t exist, I offered to walk her back to car. She gladly agreed.
We crossed the parking lot, I gave her the keys, she locked herself in, and I went back into Kohl’s to pick out a bathing suit.
 
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When I came out – 14 minutes later, according to the security camera in the parking lot, which I later consulted – the first thing I noticed was another car had parked right next to ours. The second thing I noticed was my daughter, sound asleep in the backseat with her mouth hanging open. As I knocked on the window to wake her, a man erupted from that next car telling me to FREEZE! The police were on their way!
He looked to be about 65 and was with his own adult daughter, who was visibly embarrassed and trying to calm him down. He circled my car, as if he thought I might flee, tsking and condemning, shouting things that sliced me to pieces: “Don’t you care? She could be dead! How could you just leave her? How could you?” He grew hoarse berating me, while I stood there in the rain holding a Speedo.
By the time the policeman arrived, my daughter was sitting upright, oval-eyed, and had for some reason buckled her seatbelt. The old man was giddy with anticipation, eager to see me hauled off in handcuffs and he be awarded a medal for bravery. His daughter was leaning miserably against their car, facing the opposite direction, away from the commotion. I was rehearsing my defense: My daughter is 11. She has the car keys and could open the windows if she got hot (even though it was 67 degrees outside). I was in the store without her for less than 15 minutes. She’s impossible when she is tired.
It turns out, I hadn’t broken any laws. The policeman told the man to stop yelling and leave the area. He took a small notebook from his uniform pocket and recorded my name, and then he left too. I climbed into the backseat of our car, next to my daughter, and held her tight. She was terrified. She had been awakened by a man circling our car, screaming at her mother. She never felt one bit endangered, she said later, she was afraid for me.
In the days following, my reaction to this incident evolved, running the gamut from the initial feeling of deep shame, to anger at this aggressive man, to finally feeling frustrated at the lack of compassion, the rush to judgement, and the attitude of righteousness that mothers endure. Had I made a poor decision, letting my daughter sit in the car alone in a parking lot? Probably, but by attacking me, the man gave me no room to be anything but defensive. Were his actions fueled by concern for the well-being of a sleeping girl in a car? Most definitely, but he allowed his concern to boil over into inappropriate hostility.
Statistically, my daughter faced far greater risks driving to Kohl’s, staying the night at her friend’s, and walking across the parking lot than she faced sitting by herself in the car. She loves McDonalds, which isn’t good for her and can lead to serious health problems, and she has a YouTube account, which theoretically exposes her to online predators, but strangers don’t feel entitled to criticize me about those choices. What is the difference?
More concerning than our choice of balancing personal freedom with responsibility is the growing animosity toward each other in respect to those choices. What makes mothers fair game? Had my husband been the one returning to the car, would the angry man have unleashed a torrent of insults upon him? We all know the answer.
It is sensationalism surrounding isolated instances that gives the false impression of danger, and social media is an enormous catalyst. Ultimately, the best strategy to combat foes, both foreign and domestic, is to keep doing what we think is best.

6 Tips to End Sibling Rivalry and Make Your Kids Allies, Not Enemies

Siblings often provide support and serve as companions, confidants, and role models in childhood and beyond. But the relationship requires nurturing.

Siblings can get on like a house fire. They can also be worst enemies. Although there have been relatively few studies on sibling rivalry, some evidence suggests that the relationships between siblings are highly complex and are structured around envy, jealousy, competitiveness, and a sense of “unequal justice.”
Many parents blame themselves when their kids have given up on each other. Indeed, parents consciously or subconsciously control the dynamics underlying sibling relationships. What is true is that how we raise our kids can determine if they turn into allies, or into the greatest enemies of all time.
The problem with sibling rivalry is that the damage done in childhood can be impossible to resolve in adulthood. Most adults who have “tense relationships” with their siblings know that the divide is often difficult to cross later on in life. Yet siblings can be a great resource. As some studies have pointed out, no other relationships last as long as sibling relationships. Siblings often provide support and serve as companions, confidants, and role models in childhood and beyond. Fortunately, it is possible to foster positive sibling relationships using these tips.

1 | Focus more on being fair, not equal

No matter how hard you try, you can’t treat your kids equally. Multiple studies have found that differential treatment of sibling occurs throughout life. When you try to be equal, there’s always one kid who’ll think he’s getting the short end of the stick. The problem is when we treat our kids differently the chances are higher that siblings relationships will be less positive, and there is evidence to support these views. Other studies have found that parents can improve the quality of sibling relationships if kids believe that the reasons for differential treatment are fair.
Being fair means respecting the unique needs of each individual kid. When you explain to siblings that older kids have more privileges but they also have more chores, they are more likely to see your decisions as fair. The book “Siblings Without Rivalry” shows how we can treat children unequally and still be fair.

2 | Don’t tell kids not to fight, teach them how to fight

You can’t expect your kids not to fight. Siblings fight. That’s just the way it is. Fighting is normal. What matters is how it’s done and what happens after the fight is over.
Teaching kids how to fight requires you to set a few ground rules. When kids participate in setting these rules, they are more likely to respect them. Ground rules may involves issues such as unacceptable ways to resolve conflict (for example no aggression), consequences when the rules are broken, and how to make up after a fight.

3 | Resist the urge to intervene

Taking sides when kids fight rarely leads to positive relationships. At best, the “guilty party” will seek to “get even” with his sister(s) or brother(s) or will feel that his family is against him. Instead of focusing on “who started it,” focus on what you see: “I see two kids going against the rules.” You could also try to ignore them if no violence is involved or ask them to take their fighting elsewhere.
Resist the urge to repeatedly assign blame to one kid for “always starting fights.” Remember that what we expect of our children can become self-fulfilling prophecies. According to the Golem Effect, we cannot expect good behavior from our kids when we have low expectations of them.
Naturally, you need to be attentive to conflicts and may have to intervene where young kids are involved or when your kids constantly fight over the same issue. You also need to intervene when fights turn violent. We need to teach our kids to manage anger and anxiety when they constantly react to each other with violence.

4 | Teach cooperation, not competition

There are things we do to make our life easier. We tell our kids that whoever finishes his dinner first will get a special treat. We tell them that whoever brushes her teeth first will get something in return. We tell them that whoever gets in the car first can sit in the passenger’s seat. The problem is when we turn to competition to get things done faster we teach our kids to constantly perceive themselves as “against each other.”
Fostering positive relationships requires us to teach our kids that they’re in this together. When you tell your kids that they’ll get that special treat but only if they tidy up within five minutes, you teach them cooperation. When you set them up against each other by telling them the first kid to finish tidying up will get the treat, you teach them competition.

5 | Make room for family bonding

Provide regular opportunities to bond and pave the way for cooperation. For example, have regular family routines where each kid has a specific task to increase the chances of bonding. The more kids have fun together, the easier it is for them to build positive sibling relationships. When you master the art of family negotiation, you also help strengthen the parent-child bond.

6| Begin a one-on-one routine

Have one-on-one moments everyday with each of your kids to help them feel special and help nurture their self-esteem. When children feel appreciated they are more likely to develop positive sibling relationships. One-on-one routines can be as little as five minutes spent with each child, talking or doing activities that they enjoy.

How My Rape Influences My Parenting

I must admit my own history is in the back of my mind when I’m parenting my two sons. I want them to recognize risk and know that stop means stop.

I followed an interesting conversation on Facebook a few weeks ago. One woman was calling an act rape, but others were taking issue. The woman’s rape had begun as a consensual act, but at some point during sex the woman had changed her mind. Some people explained to the woman that because of this reason, it could not be rape.

I have struggled with the question of whether I’m allowed to call my rape a rape because it was nonviolent and I was at fault in many ways. Even though I know, just as most men and women do, that no matter what a man or woman does or says or wears, if an individual has sex with him or her against his or her wishes, it is rape.

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As soon as somebody says “no,” that’s it. The sexual activities must stop.

I must admit my own history is in the back of my mind when I’m parenting my two sons. When one boy’s doing something unwelcome to the other and is told to stop but doesn’t, I make a point of saying, “As soon as somebody says ‘no’ or ‘stop,’ you must stop.”

I want to instill in them that they must obey when someone asks them to stop something. I want them to feel empowered to be able to tell others to stop what they don’t like. I am also giving this same lesson to my daughter – she can and should say “no” and “stop” if anyone is ever doing something to her that she does not like.

That’s what happened to me. I said “no” and “stop.” I know I should not hold myself responsible for it, but I do because of my actions. I put my own safety at risk. It’s not to blame myself, but to protect myself and my family in the future.

Now I’m older and wiser and don’t practice the risky behaviors that I did when I was younger, and I also know how to protect myself from some types of rape.

If I put myself in dangerous situations, I put myself at risk. Therefore, I will try not to put myself in dangerous situations.

I believe that there’s a difference between risk and responsibility. That’s what I want my children to understand.

They have every right to act how they want, dress how they want, and go where they want, but the reality is that some of those actions, attires, and places may put them at risk. It doesn’t matter how many times we say that we shouldn’t have to moderate our clothes or our behaviors, it isn’t realistic in the world we live in.

No one taught me this when I was young. I was sexually active at 14, well before I knew how my behaviors would affect my future.

When I was 18 or 19 and on vacation in Florida, I agreed to meet a man on the beach to go fishing. I honestly thought we were going fishing. Yes, I did have a condom in my bag because I thought that we might also make out and I wanted to be prepared, but I was not scared.

I remember when I saw him walking down the beach toward me with no fishing equipment. I felt my body shiver and I hoped that everything would be okay.

It was 5:30 in the morning. There was nobody around. It was a secluded spot. This was before cell phones.

He jogged over to me and we started kissing and, before I knew it, he was on top of me, holding me down against the sand.

I still had not freaked out. I was still interested in kissing him, but as he held me down tighter and ripped off my underpants, fear rose in my throat. He began to have sex with me and I said, “No.” I said, “Stop.” He kept going, and I realized he wasn’t going to stop.

I couldn’t fight him off. I pushed and wiggled, but he was stronger than I was.

“Please use a condom,” I managed to say. “There’s one in my bag.”

He continued without the condom. Before I knew it, he’d come inside of me while I lay there. He pulled out his dick and tucked it back in his pants, and then turned around and walked away.

No, he ran away down the beach while I lay there.

It wasn’t a violent rape. I wasn’t injured. I didn’t hit him or scream. I didn’t kick. I was immobile. I didn’t know what to do. I was in shock and didn’t even know if I was allowed to say “stop.”

I want my daughter and sons to have fulfilling sex lives, to explore and be with the people they want, and feel empowered to be in control of their own bodies and sexuality.

I also want them to be safe. I don’t want them to struggle for years not knowing if they are even allowed to call something that happened to them “rape” because of their own choices.

I want them to know that they should never think they’re responsible if they’re ever sexually assaulted. I also want them to be on guard of the situations they put themselves into. I want them to be safe, and realize and understand that they need to take responsibility for themselves to reduce the risk.

I still feel guilt and responsibility, but that’s also mixed together with the fact that I was cheating on my boyfriend. I was not an innocent in the story. I believe the guilt of my cheating made me feel more responsible than I actually was for the assault.

I will teach my daughter and sons to be aware of their surroundings and the situations they find themselves in. I will teach them to fight like hell if someone is doing something to them that they don’t want. I will teach them that no matter what they say “yes” to in life, they are always allowed to change their minds.

I was lucky I wasn’t injured physically that day, but the emotional scars that I carry remind me how much I love my children and want them to be safe.

Yes, that man raped me, but I went to the beach alone with no safety net. That is not an excuse for him. It’s a lesson for my daughter and sons to protect themselves and to understand that sometimes in life, it may be better to give up certain freedoms and potentially fun situations to keep themselves safe.

Bullying Is On The Decline: New Study Shows How Parents Can Keep It That Way

Although it now receives more attention than it did previously, bullying, overall, is actually on the decline in the United States.

It has only been three years since the Centers for Disease Control and Department of Education released the first formal, federal definition of bullying, but in that brief period the issue has risen to the national spotlight. From Netflix originals to front page news, bullying is a hot topic, and with good reason.
Bullying can lead to long-term emotional damage, including anxiety, depression, and even self-harm.
Although it now receives more attention than it did previously, bullying, overall, is actually on the decline in the United States. It reached its peak in 2005, when 28% of students reported being a victim of bullying. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, roughly 20% of students were victims of bullying in 2016.
Why is the rate of bullying on the decline?
 
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This gradual improvement is likely the result of broad intervention programs applied widely over the past decade. Harvard’s 2012 overview of bullying prevention programs in schools applauded the effectiveness of social-emotional learning programs and programs aimed specifically at training students to recognize, report, and effectively deal with bullying incidents.
Victims of bullying can’t stop the pattern themselves. A 2010 survey of more than 11,000 students nationwide revealed that most self-advocacy responses to bullying were actually not very effective. For example, bullying victims who fought back or told their aggressors to stop reported that doing so made their situation worse nearly half of the time.
Conversely, victims reported that telling a parent, teacher, or friend about the incident was the approach most likely to make things better. The same survey revealed that victims of bullying say the single most helpful intervention is peer action.
How can we encourage our children to be the ones who take this peer action upon themselves? How do we teach them to stand up for others? How do we raise children who are activists instead of simply bystanders?
A new study indicates that it’s much easier than you might think.
Many past studies have focused on how victims can most effectively respond to bullies, and many others have focused on how bullies can be reformed. Few studies, however, have focused specifically on how bystanders can be taught to take action on behalf of their peers. A recent study published in the March 2017 issue of the “Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology” focused on how parental action can impact a child’s bystander behaviors.
This study investigated the impact that advice from parents and other caregivers had on the behavior of fourth and fifth grade students in 74 different classrooms. As it turns out, our children are actually listening to us.
Students whose parents or caregivers told them to stand up for others were significantly more likely to intervene when a peer was bullied than students whose parents or caregivers told them to mind their own business or not seek help from a grown up. Even more intriguing, students whose parents advised them not to intervene when a peer is being bullied were significantly more likely to join in on the bullying themselves.
What does this mean for parents?
For starters, it reaffirms that parents play a crucial role in a child’s decision-making. Even though we often think that they’re not paying attention to us, our children absorb what we’re saying, at least when it comes to bullying.
The most effective style of advice was direct, clear, and straightforward. This means that giving our children the precise words they need to intervene is most helpful.
Some examples of parental advice that reinforced anti-bullying attitudes, empathy, and intervention include:

  • “Kids shouldn’t bully each other like that.”
  • “That kind of behavior is not okay.”
  • “How do you think this situation makes her feel?”
  • “You need to tell the bully to stop.”
  • “You need to try to help the victim feel better.”
  • “Tell the victim that the bully shouldn’t have done that.”
  • “Go tell an adult what is happening.”

The single most effective tool for empowering our children to stand up to bullies is telling them clearly and directly to do so. There are many other ways to help them prepare for bullying situations so that they can keep themselves and others safe. Here are some of our favorites:

Emphasize the difference between tattling and reporting

The goal of tattling is to get someone into trouble. The goal of reporting is to get someone out of trouble. If your child thinks someone could be in trouble, either physically or emotionally, he or she needs to report the situation to an adult right away.

Consume media with your kids, and use it to spark conversations

It’s tempting to use the TV as a babysitter when there’s work to do around the house, but make a point to sit down with your kids every once in a while and watch with them the shows they like. Use it as a teachable moment by casually pointing out situations that could be construed as bullying.
Try to keep the conversation light as you ask what they think the characters should do to help. Then, ask what they would do too. Use this as a conversation starter to discuss different forms of bullying and how to recognize bullying when it happens. Remind your kids that they have the power to stand up to bullies.

Role play with younger children

For younger children, or those who are less self-assured, it helps to practice the exact words that they can use to stand up to a bully. If your child is uncomfortable roleplaying with you, you can use dolls or stuffed animals to act out bully scenarios. Use the direct phrases above to shape bystander intervention. Practice until your child can use the words independently in a strong, loud voice, then give plenty of praise.

Turn to the ‘net

There are tons of anti-bullying programs and videos available online. One that your kids might appreciate is the Cartoon Network’s Stop Bullying Speak Up Campaign. Here, your child can join over one million others in taking a pledge to stand up against bullying. A tip sheet and a series of fun, educational videos geared towards bystander empowerment are also provided.  
If we want bullying to continue its decline, we need to raise kids who are willing to stand against it. When parents give their children the tools they need to intervene in a bullying situation, they are more likely to be the peer advocates that their classmates need.

Learning the Hard Way That "Suck it Up" is Terrible Advice

“I told you! You didn’t listen. You told me to suck it up and ignore it,” my oldest son stated with tears in his eyes.

“I told you! You didn’t listen. You told me to suck it up and ignore it,” my oldest son stated with tears in his eyes. It was the harshest he’d ever spoken to me, and the realization of what he was saying pierced my heart.

As parents, we are continuously bombarded by life’s realities: bills, debt, broken appliances, car repair, appointments, all the way to “What’s for dinner?” The list goes on and on. Sometimes we become so overwhelmed that we begin to prioritize these things by importance, and in doing so we set aside the things that don’t seem as important at the time. This is what I’d always done. If something trivial came my way, I would either set it aside for later while I dealt with what seemed more important or ignore it all together.

Unfortunately, I’d done this two years earlier when my son approached me with a bullying issue he was having. Burdened with many other household items needing immediate attention at the time, I’d instantly pulled advice from my childhood and my Marine Corps mentality, basically telling my son to suck it up and drink water. At the time it seemed like the best way to take care of the problem and move onto more important things. Little did I know that my remarks would prevent him from coming back to me for advice and eventually lead to an incident that could’ve been avoided.

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Our conversation would come back to bite me in February of 2017 when the phone rang. Looking at the caller ID, I saw it was the high school. Normally I receive calls from the middle school for my younger son, who is in special education, so I was a little confused. I never got calls from the high school. 

It was one of the two vice principals. He’d called to inform me that my son had assaulted another student and that the resource officer was involved. The vice principal went on to tell me that my son had violated federal law (School Safety Act) and that he was being suspended with the chance of expulsion, pending a hearing with the superintendent.

Upon arriving at the school, I met with the vice principal and the resource officer.  They explained how a student had been calling my son names, and my son had hit him. The officer then explained that he was referring my son to a juvenile diversion program offered by the state in order to avoid charges. I was about to question if the program was necessary when the officer stated my son could go to court instead, but it was my choice. Obviously, I didn’t want my son to have a record, and so I immediately took the offer of the diversion program. It seemed like the right choice at the time. Later, after I’d learned the entire story, I wasn’t so sure.

My son had hit a student who had in fact been bullying him for four years. My son had tried telling me two years prior, but unfortunately, I’d given him the “suck it up” advice. He’d also been reporting the bullying to his school guidance counselor for two years with no resolution. Supposedly, the complaint had never even left the counselor’s office. I would later learn that it was not reported to my wife or me, or even to the principal for that matter, due to counselor-client privilege. I have a hard time swallowing that one. It also surfaced that the fight was mutual combat. Apparently, my son was not the only aggressor.

To make a long (and ongoing) story short, my son has had to apologize to his assailant and is now facing further discipline from the state. The other student has not had to face any known disciplinary action. Though the school assured me that the student was dealt with, I later learned from other students and parents that no such discipline occurred. Looking back on the day of the incident, I realize that the situation had been handled too quickly. Had the school or the resource officer taken the time to dig deeper, I’m sure the incident would have been dealt with differently.

If I can draw anything useful from this situation it is this: never take what your child says to you too lightly. Take the time to ask questions before dismissing their complaints or giving advice. What may seem insignificant at the time, may, in fact, be something of extreme importance or turn into a situation you don’t want to deal with.

It’s also very important to be involved with the school. Don’t let a little matter go without letting the school know that you are watching. Stay involved. The school isn’t an enemy, but in cases such as this, they’ll cover themselves to avoid any legal action. They have a job to do, and though they may care about your child’s welfare and future, they will protect themselves first. Do not hesitate or be afraid to seek legal counsel. I honestly wish I’d brought a lawyer with me to the school that day.

We, as parents, continuously find ourselves consumed by the daily burdens called parenthood and life. We must, however, remember that we are parents first. As such we must stop and take the time to listen to every complaint made by our children, no matter how inconsequential the complaint may seem. If we don’t stop to actually listen to what they’re saying, then we could find ourselves (or our children) in a situation that could’ve been avoided.