Today our middle school will hold the 6th grade dance, the one-and-only dance of the year for 6th grade students. Which reminded me of this story I wrote a year ago, when Tween played an unexpected center stage role in tween-age drama. It felt too raw to post then, and too likely to cause offense among the already carried away adults. Today I am grateful we have a lot less drama (of this sort, anyway) in our lives.
I got a call today from the school counselor regarding an issue with my 6th grade son. She said there had been rumors, and he had admitted to being the source. Allegedly, he and another boy had planned to get a girl to ask a boy to the 6th grade dance this Friday, all as a joke. The boy has special needs…
No one should be the butt of a girl-likes-boy-NOT joke, especially not a child who has other issues. That’s bullying, obviously unacceptable. It’s also completely out of character with who I know my son to be. Could it be a bad judgment call on a new-to-him awkward social situation? Perhaps.
Except it never happened, at least not like that.
Concerned that my son would hatch such a plan, I promised the counselor I would talk with him. So I did. But he didn’t want to talk about it. Not At All. Siding with the adults, I took that as a sign of guilt. I continued to push, and he burst into tears. I took that as a sign of shame. He kept saying, “But Mom, we were joking!” and couldn’t understand why that upset me.
I explained again (and again–cue Charlie Brown’s teacher’s voice: “Wa wa wa wa wa…”) what I had heard from the counselor, and how that didn’t seem to line up with what he was saying. I asked my son if he was lying, to the counselor or to me. He begged to just get back to his homework, tears rolling down his cheeks.
Minutes later I received a call from another mom. It seems the 6th graders had inflated in their minds this once-only 6th grade dance into something akin to a prom. They thought they needed dates. What about the slow dances? Boys were asking girls to the dance. Girls were asking boys to the dance. Everyone was talking about who was going with whom, and who should ask whom, and what if so-and-so asked so-and-so.
Parents were calling parents: do I need to volunteer to drive my son and his date to the dance? (No one drives to an after-school dance). Should we have a conversation with our daughter and your son to set expectations? Obviously they’re too young to date so we want to be clear she can dance with whomever she wants.
Egads, people, it’s a 6th grade after-school dance! We all need to take a deep breath.
This is the drama surrounding the rumors attributed to my son.
On Monday, only four days yet eons ago to the pre-teen brain, back when he truly believed he must have a date to the dance, my son and a friend had a quiet conversation in math class. They said something like, “What if Girl A asked Boy B?” They weren’t going to talk to Girl A; she wasn’t going to ask Boy B to the dance; neither child was in their math class, just random names that popped to mind. The whole conversation was conjecture, something to talk about during a few spare minutes. Let’s consider: why do 6th grade boys talk about anything? Sheesh, who knows?
Apparently an adult overheard them and told another adult who told the counselor. What the adult didn’t overhear was, “What if Boy C asked Girl D, or Girl E/F/G asked Boy H/I/J…?” You get the picture. The adults didn’t.
Rather, the adults thought a) the students were hatching a plan and b) that the plan specifically included Girl A because she is cute and Boy B because he has special needs. The counselor then invited kids from the math class into her office, two by two, asking about the rumor, until two someones copped to the conversation.
Mind you, it was only a rumor because the adults talked to one another. The kids had been oblivious.
My son had NO idea Boy B had special needs. In fact, when I asked if he knew the boy had special needs, he didn’t even understand the term. He has no classes with the boy, he doesn’t know him well, and his impression is that “he’s nice.”
Another miscommunication: my son had told the counselor he and the other boy “were joking.” To his 6th grade mind that meant, “We were having a meaningless conversation.” Joking as in, light-hearted, of no consequence; NOT joking as in to poke fun at, to prank.
But the well-meaning, overly-conscientious adults interpreted the situation as a mean-spirited prank. Which is why everyone was surprised that my son was at the center—this doesn’t sound like something he’d do at all.
Because he didn’t.
What IS in character is to make and keep peace at any cost. When pushed, he will accept even undeserved blame. He admitted he had spoken “the rumor.” He thought he had explained himself by saying we were joking. He didn’t understand and didn’t ask why everyone was so upset. In his old-soul way, he sees that adults get all bent out of shape over things that don’t warrant it, and he wrote the situation off to that. He didn’t tell me about it not because of guilt, or shame, or lies, but because to him it was truly No Big Deal.
Yet a few stirred-up adults spent a whole lot of time stirring up a whole lot of students trying to get to the bottom of a situation that never was.
On the one hand, I get it. In the too recent past, the school dealt with a fairly serious bullying issue. In the more distant past, the school had a serious abuse issue. They have to act on suspicion to prevent harm and protect students.
But there could have been a simpler solution. The administration must have been aware that the 6th graders had misunderstood the dance. A counselor or administrator could have taken a few minutes in the math class under suspicion or, better yet, in each of the required 6th grade Core classes, to explain the dance: No dates, all group fun. No suggesting or speculating or joking that anyone ask anyone, and we certainly don’t want anyone humiliating anyone by pretending to ask someone, because that would be bullying, and not in character with our iKind school, and would carry consequences. Any questions? That could have solved the problem, minus the student interrogation and accusations.
I am bothered that an overly suspicious adult in a petri dish culture of fear put into motion a chain of events that led to me accusing my son of being both mean and a liar. Neither is true (and my heart knew it), and I have asked my son’s forgiveness.
The real irony? He’s not even going to the dance. He has other plans.