Think back to when you rode the school bus. Was it a calm situation where all the children were well-behaved and kind? Or was it something of a free-for-all, with rowdiness, teasing, and sometimes worse? Yup, that’s what I thought.
Your kids’ bus ride is likely the least-supervised part of their school day. It’s also when they’re most likely to be in close quarters with kids much older or younger than they are. So the situation is ripe for teasing, bullying—and sharing information younger kids might not be ready to hear.
That’s not something to panic about. Kids have always learned from older kids, including some hard lessons. But it does mean you want to take an interest in what happens on the bus.
What’s on the Other Kids’ Phones?
Besides the obvious possibility of teasing and bullying, consider the possibility that your child will be exposed to disturbing images. No matter how good the parental controls are at your house, you can’t control what other kids have on their smart phones. I hate being the bearer of bad news, but that’s reality today.
Kids’ first exposure to pornography is often through other kids—and it’s not unusual for them to see sexually explicit images as young as age 8. (Terrifying, but true.) Kids, especially pre-puberty, aren’t emotionally equipped to deal with those images; they feel overwhelmed and confused. They may sense that there’s something “secret” or “wrong” about those photos and worry that telling you will get them, or the other child, in trouble. They may find the images frightening, arousing, embarrassing, or all those things.
When your child sees porn (and unfortunately, it’s “when,” not “if”), you want them to know they can talk to you about it. The best-case scenario is for them to come to you, describe what they saw, tell you how they feel about it, and get your reassurance that they didn’t do anything wrong.
Obviously, the calmer you stay, the better. I know, that’s a tall order. But prepare yourself that your kid will see sexually explicit images at some point. If they can’t turn to you when they’re upset or have questions about sexuality, they may be left thinking that porn is what normal sex is like. (Frighteningly high numbers of young people say they learned about sex from porn. You don’t want your kid to be one of them.)
So, yes, it’s a little scary…but you can do it. Talk with your partner or another parent about how you each would react emotionally and what you might say if your child saw sexual images. Getting the freak-out out of the way and practicing a bit makes it more likely you’ll be able to catch your breath when the time comes. And the sample language below may help.
Of course, it’s counterproductive to be hypervigilant or grill your child every day about what happened on the bus (or anywhere else). That makes kids shut down. So bring up bus scenarios only occasionally and in a non-demand way. Even if kids don’t respond, they’ll notice your interest and might circle back to the subject some other time.
You could use sentences like these to express interest and plant seeds without being too intense:
“I remember being on the school bus when some of the older kids were pretty mean to younger kids. Have you seen any of that?”
“Do you usually sit near the front or the back of the bus? What do you like about that?”
“Are there any kids on the bus who, when they get off, you’re relieved?”
“Who do you usually sit with? What do you like about them?”
“Sometimes kids like to say things or show pictures that’ll freak out other kids. If anyone ever uses words or shows you pictures that confuse or upset you, please tell me and I won’t be mad.”
“If you ever have any kind of problem on the bus, talk to me. We can figure out together what might help.”
“On the internet there are some things that are intended only for adults. Some sites show naked people doing strange things [or, having sex. It’s really nothing like the loving sex real people have]. If you see anything like that, please come talk to me so I can explain what’s real and what’s not.”
“I am so glad you came to me. I can see you’re upset, and I love you.”
“In this house we try to give you accurate information about bodies [and sex]. But not every family is comfortable with that. Please use your knowledge kindly and responsibly, not to upset someone whose family isn’t as open.”
“Now that you’re one of the older kids, I hope you’ll choose to be someone who helps and protects younger kids and even tells mean kids to back off.”
Of course, it’s impossible to protect your child from every bad thing that might happen. But you can keep a conversation going, so your child knows you’re interested and available to help.
And it’s possible your child’s bus rides are pleasantly uneventful. Good things happen on busses, too. Friendships develop. Kids get silly and giggle. (Do they still sing “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall?”) Whatever’s going on in that part of your kid’s day, you want them to know you’re interested.