I have told both my children that my number one job is to keep them safe. I include physical safety. When they were young, I taught them not to run into traffic, and to use seat belts in cars, and helmets while bike riding. As teens, I tell them never to take pills from classmates even if asking for just ibuprofen. This parenting job also includes emotional safety. My daughter and I have talked about what emotional abuse is, and how extremely dangerous and harmful it is.
I never taught them how to handle schoolyard bullies.
For the last three months of her 8th-grade year, a boy named Ian* has taunted my daughter, Artemis*. He has kicked playground pebbles on her. He has thrown balls at her. He has “dunked” her. He has taunted her. He has laughed at her.
He encouraged others to do the same.
My daughter had her third concussion while playing basketball two weeks ago. This third concussion brought us again to the ER. It is her third head injury in four months. All her classmates know about these concussions.
Yes, I am frightened. Yes, watching your child pass out and not be able to walk is horrific.
First and second concussions.
Her first concussion was during PE. All the kids saw it or heard about it. She ran full speed into a large wall speaker while playing lacrosse and went down. She told me she was watching the lacrosse ball and wanted to win.
Her second concussion was at recess. She was playing chuck-the-basketball with friends and when she turned to leave the playground the ball hit her in the same spot where she bonked her head the first time.
Artemis slid down onto the grass. She said everything went dark and she grew very tired. She felt sick and dizzy.
Then she heard Ian laughing, yelling,“Get up! You’re faking it.”
He began to kick little rocks at her and then he jumped over as she lay in a fetal position on the grass. Another boy followed Ian’s lead. Later he told my daughter that he was trying to impress Ian.
The yard duty lady came. A wheelchair was retrieved, and she took Artemis to the office.
I told the vice principal about Ian’s kicking pebbles at her and telling her to get up.
She was physically hurt and brutally shamed by Ian. I was angry. My daughter couldn’t process how he could be so mean. As she rested in bed, she cried.
The vice principal said he’d look into it. I never heard back from him.
Ian did not stop after the second concussion.
Over the next couple of months, Ian continued to throw balls at my daughter. He’d also pretended to throw balls, saying, “Watch out! You’re going to get another concussion.”
Then he’d laugh.
My daughter would come home from school telling me these things. She asked, “Why does he do this to me? I never have done anything to him.”
I was going to go to the school and tell her teachers. I wanted her far away from him. I told her that I did not want her to talk to him, or sit next to him, even though he often sought her friend group. I didn’t want her to give him an ounce of her attention or energy.
Ian was being fed by hurting my daughter.
She promised to keep her distance and asked me not to go to the school. She said the
teachers would make it worse.
Were my daughter and I reading Ian wrong?
Ian was sometimes nice to her. He would say something funny. He once gave her a free ticket to the high school football game.
Ian had a crush on one of Artemis’ friends. He wanted to be around her friend group.
So, my daughter would sit at different tables than Ian as I asked her to do, even though he was by her friend. He turned to her, “Why won’t you talk to me? Why?”
She responded, “No reason.”
“Awe! Now you’re talking to me.”
He laughed and turned back around.
Did he get under her skin?
A month later, she had a panic attack at school, relate to this or not, I am not sure. Her fear of going back to school was Ian.
Did he know about the panic attack, would he tease her?
I spoke to the school counselor about this. She said she would make sure her teachers didn’t place him in any of her class groups. She said 8th-grade teachers had their students change groups often. I later learned she forgot to do this.
Three weeks ago, he “dunked her” at recess. He threw a basketball overhead. It bounced off the backboard almost hitting her. Taunting, “Are you going to get another concussion?”
I went to the school and told the counselor and said, “I need this abuse on record.”
Maybe important maybe not, my daughter is an amazing athlete. She is fast. Though she plays basketball, softball, and bike rides, and snowboards, and wake surfs, her main sport is soccer. She may not always be the “best” player, but she is one of those athletes that are fun to watch. She shows up out of nowhere and steals the ball. Her feet work is skilled. She never backs down.
She is faster than most of the boys in her eighth-grade class — including Ian.
At the basketball championship game, there were 60 seconds on the clock. The ball was thrown and to keep it from going out of bounds, she reached for it, palm side up to push it back in. As she turned, she fell and hit her head on a concrete wall. The wall was less than three feet from the out of bound’s line.
She went down and was taken to the ER minutes later.
On the Monday back, ten days later because of winter break, a group of boys, Ian’s friends said, “Watch out, Artemis, you are going to get another concussion.”
Balls were thrown at her.
One ball hit her hip.
In class, Artemis went to Ian’s desk. She slammed her hands on his desk and looked him straight in the eyes.
“Knock it off. If I get another concussion, it can be really bad.”
“I didn’t throw the balls.”
In between classes in the hall, he walked by her and said, Look up, something’s falling from the sky. It’s going to hit your head.”
The next morning, I was in the vice principal’s office. I told him of the events and said I want a meeting ASAP with all her teachers, the principal, the school behaviorist, and the school counselor. I want the boys to be spoken to. I want the boys’ parents notified.
Artemis heard the principal talking to Ian — she just happened to be in the copy room. Ian said, “I understand. Won’t happen again. Thank you, sir, have a great day.”
An hour later, she was being called a “snitch” and “rat.” She didn’t know if the words were coming from Ian or his best friend.
That night we found out that Ian did tell the other boys to throw the balls.
My daughter’s perception was that all her teachers really liked Ian. The principal liked him. I am told he has several pairs of expensive Nike shoes. He is a straight-A student. He is an athlete.
That night Artemis didn’t talk to me until she said, “I could have handled it, Mom. When was the last time you were in middle school? He is the most popular kid. Everyone sticks up for him.”
I told my daughter that it is my job to keep her safe. If a stranger walked into our home uninvited, I would call the sheriff. If you were at a party and you were accosted, I would call the police.
I was hurt that she was angry. I knew her anger toward me was possibly misdirected. And I knew someday she would forgive me.
That next day at school, one of the boys admitted he shouldn’t have thrown balls, that he wasn’t mad at her. Another boy gave her an apology letter. He told her his dad was very angry and had me write you a letter. He said, "I am very sorry.”
The next week, during PE, while playing dodgeball Ian said,“Let’s throw the ball at Artemis.”
I contacted the school again.
The next day was the meeting, as asked the school counselor, the behaviorist, her teachers, the vice principal, and the principal attended. I told them I knew that the word “bully” was a charged word in today’s academic world.
"My daughter is being bullied. And she believes that the adults will make it worse.” I paused and looked at each person who sat around the table,“Let’s show her we will keep her safe, that we adults can take care of this.
A few days later.
She is back to telling me everything (mostly) about her day. On our way home we laugh, and with the windows rolled down we sing Taylor Swift’s song, “Mean.”