I receive many letters from parents each week in my role as "The Teen Doctor." Lately, I've been getting a rash of letters about school bus problems.
Here is an anonymous letter from one mother that seems to illustrate the problem quite well. I would love to hear about your teens' and tweens' school bus experiences -- positive, negative, and neutral.
Dear Dr. G.,
My 13 year old daughter recently started complaining about stomach pains. I let her take a few days off from school assuming that she had a stomach virus. As soon as the weekend came her stomach was immediately feeling fine. This made me wonder if perhaps she was trying to avoid school by telling me that she didn't feel well.
I felt guilty, of course, by being suspicious of my daughter. Anyway, I started to do some investigating and found out from my older daughter who is 15 that a boy on the school bus who is a little older-around 17 has been calling my daughter a "hippo." My 15 year old didn't mind that I was going to ask my other daughter about this. I really couldn't understand why my younger daughter hadn't confided in me.
When I spoke to my 13 year old she told me that she is afraid of some of the older boys on the school bus. This bus has kids from the ages of 13-18 all riding together. My daughter is not overweight but developed early and has large breasts which make her self-conscious. She developed earlier than most of her friends. Apparently,a few of the older boys have been singing "hippo" songs to her for a few months now. She said that she didn't tell me because she was embarrassed and also didn't want me to be upset.
My daughter said that she has tried ignoring these boys, changing her seat, and even trying to befriend them, but all to no avail. She wants me to help her. I can't drive her to school because I have to get to work early. I am a single parent so I don't have a husband who can help me in this situation.
What do you suggest that I do to help my daughter, Dr.G.? I am at my wit's end and don't want my daughter to either get teased and/or develop an ulcer.
A Helpless Mother
Good for your older daughter that she told you what is going on during the ride to school. And good for your younger daughter for then opening up and telling you about her attempts at dealing with the situation. And shame on the school for having kids of such varying ages ride to school together and not supervising what is happening on the bus. I have always had an issue with that. The school bus is one of the places that kids get teased the most and I believe that this is partly due to the older kids having so much unsupervised access to the younger kids.
I suggest that you let your daughter know that you are going to speak to a school administrator. The school has plenty of responsibility here. Ask that the administrator talk to each of these kids individually and remind them about what sort of behavior is acceptable and not acceptable on the bus. By talking to every student, none of the kids will be singled out. Let the school administrator know that you do not want your daughter's name mentioned so that the situation does not become worse.
Ask your school contact when she plans to talk to the kids and set up a date to talk to her and see how it went. My hope is that things will calm down once the kids are spoken to. If this intervention is not successful then the school has a responsibility to revisit the issue and perhaps remove the offenders from the bus.
Good luck and please write back with the outcome.
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