Journey came home from school last week and told me that a boy called her a “bitch” on the school bus. While this wasn’t the first time she had heard the word (that was on the playground!), it was definitely the first time she had been called one.
She explained that she was having a conversation with a “friend” on the bus. She was telling him something and he replied by saying, “What did you say bitch?” Like wow! It just rolled off his tongue like that! Obviously, he had heard that phrase before.
My momma bear instincts kicked in immediately and I jumped right into detective mode…
Me: “What were y’all talking about when he said it?”
(As if any topic that 8-year-olds generally discuss would warrant that response!)
J: “I don’t remember. Just talking.”
Me: “What was your reaction when he said it?”
J: “I didn’t say anything. I just kept talking like I didn’t hear him.”
Me: “Well how did you feel about it?”
J: “ I felt fine. It didn’t bother me.”
(Felt fine? Didn’t bother her? Her reaction took me by surprise. I was conflicted. I was happy that she had the good sense to ignore it, but disappointed that it didn’t upset her enough to make her snap back at him with some kind of snarky response. (Note to self: Give Journey a list of kid-friendly comebacks for insults.) After I took a breath, I remembered that I was talking to an 8-year-old who probably doesn’t even know what the word means.)
Me: “I don’t think you felt fine. If it really didn’t bother you, you wouldn’t have mentioned it. You knew it was wrong, that’s why you told me.”
J: “I mean I know it’s a bad word, but I don’t really know what it means.”
(I was right. Now how do I explain what it means?)
I took another breath and explained that the word “bitch” is an insult and just about the most disrespectful thing to say to a girl or a woman. I told her that it was not ok for the boy—or anyone else—to call her that. Then she got upset when I told her that I would have to tell her teacher about the incident. She insisted that it wasn’t a big deal and that she didn’t want to get him trouble. I told her that he probably didn’t know what the word meant either (although I’m not so sure I believe that) and the only way that he would know it was wrong was if he was told. I also explained that you teach people how to treat you and that you have to stand up for yourself when you are being disrespected or mistreated. And at her age, that simply means telling the person that what he said/did was not nice and not to say/do it to you again. It also means telling a teacher, which doesn’t make you a tattletale—the biggest fear of all kids around her age.
The school handled the situation appropriately and the little boy apologized. But I can’t help but give him the side-eye every time I see him at school and at the bus stop…
Have any other advice? What else would you have done in this situation?