“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.