Why I’m Proud That My Daughter Got “Silent Lunch”
For a 12-year-old extrovert, the highest form of punishment possible in middle school isn’t detention or extra homework—it is silent lunch.
Silent lunch is the punishment many teachers and administrators use to wield their power and influence over the hundreds of kids they are responsible for corralling and educating on a daily basis. When a student misbehaves—zap! “Silent lunch.” When a student runs in the hallway—zap! “Silent lunch.”
So what happens when a student is the victim of abuse, bullying, or harassment during class and stands up for him/herself? Why, silent lunch, of course.
Wait, what? Silent lunch for standing up to a harasser? Yes, unfortunately that’s what happened to my daughter.
The seventh-grade boys have decided that it’s fun or funny or whatever to wink incessantly at the girls. In the hallway, during class, during lunch, all the time. And my daughter is over it. It makes her uncomfortable. She thinks it’s weird. So when a boy “silently” winked at her during class, she mouthed, “Stop it. That’s weird.” And guess what? The silent, winking perpetrator will be chatting away over lunch with his buddies today, while my daughter, the harassment stopper, will sit silently by herself. Zap! “Silent lunch.”
As the teacher called out her punishment in front of her peers, her eyes welled up with tears. When she told me last night about her punishment, her eyes welled up again.
So imagine the look of surprise on her face when I told her I was proud of her and that I supported her decision 100%.
So why am I proud of my daughter for getting silent lunch?
Abusers pick the most opportune times to abuse (when teachers aren’t looking or when no talking is allowed). Harassers like to watch their victims squirm (how many times can I wink at her before she explodes?). A seventh-grade winker can easily turn into a tenth-grade boob grabber, who can easily turn into a collegiate sexual assaulter because no one is stopping them. Well, my daughter just stopped one and I’m proud of her for that.
Victims, on the other hand, are taught in seventh grade, if not earlier, that standing up for yourself could result in punishment. They are asked to ignore the abuse and overlook the harassment. They are told that their reactions to the abuse are petty or hyper-sensitive.
Justifiers will claim that the boys are just playing, having fun, or being boys. Justifiers will say that the teacher has rules, and my daughter broke those rules. Yes, yes she did. But what’s more punishable? Sexually harassing a peer or telling the harasser to stop? Were she given a fair trial by the teacher, I think the teacher would have changed the punishment, but since punishments are handed down in schools without the possibility of explanation, my daughter will enjoy the peace and tranquility of her silent lunch.
When she’s 30 years old and gets winked at by her boss in a boardroom, I hope she remembers this day and speaks up for herself. It might cost her a promotion, but at least she’s protecting herself.
Maybe teachers, administrators, and other parents don’t see this situation the way I do. But as a 41-year-old, I’ve been on the receiving end of many of the same (and worse) behaviors. And no one taught me what to do. No one supported me or stood by my side. I want my daughter to know that I will always have her back, especially when she is crusading to put an end to harassment. I’m proud of my daughter for getting silent lunch.