Kids are going back to school. The leaves are turning; pencils are on sale at Target. The neighborhood pools are closing, and it’s time for the big yellow school buses to rumble around the streets, picking up young and enthusiastic kids.
From the outside, a bus looks like a lovely way of getting kids to school. It’s convenient for parents, and it’s so old-fashioned and cute. Last week, all my friends posted pictures of their children waiting, in brand new clothes, backpacks securely resting on both shoulders, for the school bus to take them to school. So so cute!, everyone wrote.
But see, there’s a dark side to the school bus. A really dark side. If you’re a kid, once you get on, it is the one part of your school day that is completely unstructured…and the part that is completely unmonitored. Even at recess, teachers are watching. But on the bus, the one adult who is there is driving, and cannot be distracted. Therefore, the kids are thrown into a small space with no seat belts and no rules. It’s like Lord of the Flies on wheels.
What happens on the bus? Everything. Kids hide behind the seats and tell secrets, make fun of each other, torment each other, exclude each other and basically break the rules that are enforced in school and at home.
I know that for me, as a child, the bus was the worst part of my day. I hated it. I didn’t know who to sit with, who would allow me to sit with them and if I’d get through the ride unscathed or completely tormented. The irony of the bus is that of course, the kids can’t ask for help. No one sees it, so the teacher can’t do anything. It’s one kid’s word against another. So nothing gets done. The bus is ruled by the strong willed kids, by the ones who, by brute force, become the leaders.
What can be done? How can the bus become a safe space for all children? Schools are working so hard on erasing bullying, on creating safe spaces for all the children in school. But they can only work with what they see. What about the bus environment? How do we make sure our kids feel safe there too?
What do you do when your child is having a difficult time on the bus?