Updated: Oct 3
Like every other 6-year-old in the tiny farm town where we lived, I went off to 1st grade at the local elementary school. That year, repeated reports of boys dragging girls into the boys’ bathroom resulted in recess monitors checking the restroom every few minutes. I had been in a men’s restroom many times. My parents ran a janitorial service as a side hustle so I spent my evenings at a local commercial building helping to empty the trash, vacuum, and tidy both bathrooms. When two boys in my class dared me to walk into the boys' bathroom, I was up for it – as long as they checked first and could promise no one was in there at the time.
It turns out, boys trying to lure little girls into the boys' bathroom can’t be trusted. There was a boy using the urinal when I walked in. They had lied to me. But before I could escape, in came the recess monitor and found me and 3 boys in the bathroom. It was an easy sell. I simply told her they had forced me in there and all three of them had to sit on the sidelines for the rest of recess.
I felt really guilty about Will being punished. I tried to explain that he was just using the bathroom, but recess aides were not paid to conduct trials and meter out justice. The more dolphins they caught in the tuna net, the fewer fish were left in the sea to cause them more trouble.
When my parents learned that I was “dragged” into the boy’s bathroom, it sounded extremely dramatic. They pictured an innocent 6-year-old kicking and flailing and putting up a fight while being overpowered by a gang of young thugs pulling her toward the bathroom door.
My mother was already reading the best-seller, “Why Johnny Can’t Read.” Oddly, for a child who couldn’t read, I knew exactly what that book said. And it was true. In Kindergarten, we were taught the look/say method instead of phonics. It was very ineffective.
The lack of educational progress coupled with the unsafe conditions were enough to prompt my parents to join with a handful of other families to form a private Christian school the very next year, 1975. They hired a teacher, got permission to use the Veteran’s Hall, and 7 of us ranging in age from 2nd to 6th grade became what would now be known as a micro-school.
For the next decade, I would overhear my parents telling the story of the time I was dragged into the boys' bathroom many times. They credited it as a primary reason for our departure from the public school system. And each time they did, I felt very guilty knowing it was a lie. But I never confessed, and I never returned to public school.
I completed my education in private Christian schools which my parents helped to start and run. The biggest of them numbered 25 students, K-12, at its peak. I graduated in a class of one. Then it was off to Dallas, home of the Christian college where all the good kids who graduated from our school went. There I met my future husband while still at the airport (DFW) the day we both arrived. (Yes, I married the very first guy I met when I got to college.) We were married 4 years later, less than 2 months after I earned my degree. Students with my degree did one of two things: took the LSAT and went to law school, or went to work in private Christian schools as teachers or administrators or both. Aside from a 5-year detour in a business office doing corporate bookkeeping and accounting, I spent my entire career using that degree in a variety of educational settings. But what if I hadn’t lied to avoid getting in trouble as a six-year-old caught in the boys' bathroom? Would my parents have helped to start that first Christian school that completely changed the trajectory of my life? Kids lie for a lot of reasons. To avoid getting into trouble is a common one. I know they lie because I did. And I know they lie because I deal with those lies every week. When two children tell opposing stories making themselves the victim and the other child the perpetrator, someone is lying. Most likely, they both are. It is effective. Nearly 100% of the time, a parent will believe their child. And you should. Unless there is strong evidence to the contrary, I would always support a parent’s choice to believe their child. Because believing a lie is far better than not believing a child who is telling the truth.
A recent study showed that adults, including parents, cannot tell when a child is lying. When given a 50/50 chance, they will be wrong 50% of the time. The same researcher found that an overwhelming majority of students will lie when it is to their advantage.
But as an administrator, I don’t have the luxury of believing all the lies. Most often, it doesn’t matter. The mystery of who said the dirty word or started the shoving match won’t be solved.
But sometimes the offense is such that action has to be taken. In a he said/she said where the stakes are high, there is still no way to prove where the truth lies. I’m convinced it was a school principal who originally said, “There are three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the truth.”
Sometimes, we weigh the evidence and determine that one story is more credible than the other, and we take action to correct the behavior of the least credible student. Last year, that meant removing two students from our classes who were accused of a serious offense even though we couldn’t prove it. In that case, it was the word of two against the word of one, but credibility fell to the one.
Sometimes, we weigh the evidence and cannot determine who is more or less credible, but action still has to be taken. A few years ago, we suspended students on both sides of a dispute because there was no way to know what really happened, but the students couldn’t continue to be in classes together.
This week we had 2 minor disputes each involving two boys. I got reports from all 4 parents. Two of the boys told the truth just from extremely different perspectives: Student 1: (paraphrase) "After being asked, he still wouldn’t stop kicking the back of my chair so I finally grabbed his arm and told him to stop." Student 2: (paraphrase) "I was just tapping the back of his chair as a prank, and he grabbed my arm and threatened to beat the *bleep* out of me."
Two versions – both true – just told from different perspectives.
In the other incident, from my perspective as someone who was witnessed the misbehavior, two boys were caught doing the wrong thing and corrected. Much like the aide on the playground when I was in school, our aide didn’t hold a jury trial in the middle of class. She saw them far removed from where they were supposed to be, and she stepped in. One boy was offended because he wanted to deflect and explain how the other boy was guilty of the more serious offense, but he didn’t get the chance. The other boy, when later accused of the more serious offense, flatly denied having said any such thing. And parents on all sides stand behind their child’s version of events, which I completely understand and support, though I believe the truth probably falls somewhere in the middle.
Where there are children, there will be minor disputes nearly every week. It is a normal part of the human experience, and probably an important part of a child learning to navigate the world. When these issues come, realize that you may not have an accurate picture of what happened, but help your child deal with any fallout and understand that things aren’t always perfectly fair. Encourage them to take responsibility for any part they may have played, and then provide comfort and understanding.
If you over-react, as my parents did, and it turns out they were lying, you may be sentencing them to a childhood of guilt and shame. But then again, maybe some of the best things in their life will result from a lie they told when they were 6.