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Ask the School Psychologist...

by Beth Bruno, Ed.M., M.A.

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Hassles on the School Bus

QUESTION:

I wonder what goes on to and from school on the bus. A majority of school children ride buses for an hour or more every day, five days a week. Maybe that's where trouble starts, with the teasing, threats and posturing for attention and leadership. What if the wrong kid takes over? Do other students keep quiet about it because they're afraid, or do they blindly follow the leader, hoping the power will rub off on them? Bus drivers hear what goes on. Do they receive training from school administrators about how to handle student conflict on their buses, or do they just ignore it? It may only be small problems that develop there, but monstrous ones can develop, too. How do we control or stop it?

ANSWER:

As much as adults try to anticipate problems and protect children from stress, children also have to learn to rely on their own resources to handle confrontation or conflict with peers. In the past, much of the neighborhood pecking order was worked out during sandlot sports or street games. Now youth sports are often coached and organized by adults, who raise the money for uniforms, set up tournaments and enforce the rules. So kids work out their differences and establish their cliques in other places --- on school buses, playgrounds and in school bathrooms --- where adults provide relatively low levels of supervision. I think kids need such freedom to work things out among themselves --- within limits.

My questions to student readers are the following: How much supervision do you need on buses, playgrounds or in school bathrooms? Are adults too lax and uninvolved in your lives? How common are threats from student bullies? Do you feel comfortable telling parents or school officials when you need help, or is that against your social rules?

My son and daughter rarely talked with teachers about social problems that arose at school; instead they brought their stories home to the dinner table. My husband and I listened and made suggestions, but rarely stepped in personally.

Student jockeying for position and influence began in the bus line for our daughter, as early as first grade. While waiting for the bus, the biggest kids claimed the head of the line and the seats at the back of the bus, whether they arrived first or not. Older kids teased the younger ones constantly, calling them names or making up false rumors about them, just to put them in their place. My daughter handled the situation by hanging out about a block away from the bus stop until she saw the bus coming around the corner. Then she'd scurry to the end of the line and get on, riding near the front so others wouldn't pick on her. As she got older and more confident, she fought back (verbally) and earned a place closer to the front of the line.

During the summer between 4th and 5th grades, our son got into a fistfight with his closest friend, who lived across the street. Physically bigger but two years younger than his friend, our son came home upset and crying, even though neither he nor his friend was badly hurt. I think their pride was wounded more than anything else. My husband, out of anger that an older boy had hit our son, gave the older boy a tongue lashing (mostly about fairness, I think.) What a mistake! Word got out that our son had run crying to Daddy, causing the rest of the neighborhood kids to ostracize him for a week! Only when the oldest boy in the "crowd" gave the word was he allowed to join in their games again. They welcomed him back as if nothing had happened, but we learned quite a lesson about the unwritten rules on our street.

One afternoon while in ninth grade, our son burst through the back door after school and ran to the bathroom. I didn't pay much attention, until I noticed that he rushed in like this several afternoons in a row. When I asked him about it, he told me that some bigger kids were hanging out in the school bathrooms to "shake down" freshmen for their lunch money and threatening to beat them up if they told anyone. He didn't want that to happen to him, so he decided not to use the bathrooms all day! No wonder he was in such a hurry to get home! In retrospect, we probably should have reported this story to the principal, but we didn't.

I'm not an expert on these matters. I realize that kids need to find their own way among their peers, but sometimes they need adult help. If it's true that kids don't want adult interference, when is it OK for us to jump in? What responsibility do kids have to report problems to adults, especially when threats get serious? Whom do you tell? Your parents? A teacher? The principal? Friends? Who can be most helpful to you, and how?

Students, teachers, talk with each other about these issues. You can identify problems and find solutions to them when you communicate openly and respectfully with each other.


Beth Bruno - Insights, the Luckiest Spot on the Internet
http://pages.cthome.net/insights


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