The Day My Son Was Punched At School

by Christine Burke
teens fight

He pushed his food around on his plate and looked up at his father and me. I could tell that he had been wrestling with something all afternoon, but as a mother of teens, I knew not to push too hard to get him to talk. Our son, usually open and willing to tell us his feelings, seemed quiet, pensive even. As my eyes met his, he said, “Mom, I have to tell you something, and I don’t want you to get upset.” I braced myself as the story tumbled out of his distressed face.

A boy punched him at school.

“I didn’t see it coming. All of sudden, his fist hit me, and I fell backward. I have some bruises.”

I bit back tears as he told me that he didn’t hit back because he didn’t want to get in trouble for fighting in school. As he recounted how he waited two class periods before seeking help from a trusted teacher and the details of what ensued after the incident, I sat at the kitchen table dumbfounded and upset, my dinner long forgotten.

Punching and fighting didn’t happen in elementary school. We don’t fist fight in our home, and our son has been raised to use his words to solve disputes, not his fists. Listening to him tell us about his situation, I immediately wondered if we’d done him a disservice by not teaching him how to deliver a good right cross to defend himself. I felt ill-equipped to deal with violence at school, and I felt blindsided that it had happened to my son. Mostly, I felt hurt deep within my soul that another human being could inflict bodily harm to my firstborn.

We can all recall times in our school careers when a fight broke out in the hallway or the cafeteria. The rumor mill, the “you should have seen it,” and the way the parties involved interacted afterward are parts of most people’s school experiences. I remember two girls getting into a fistfight on our senior class trip, and though the story had become part of our class lore until my son came home with his own tale, I’d never thought about that incident from a parent’s point of view. The thought of calls their parents undoubtedly received, the realization that someone had tried to hurt their child, and the feelings of helplessness to fix a volatile situation for their child crashed down upon me.

Fights happen, they say.

Boys will be boys, they say.

Until it’s your boy in a fight, and everything changes.

Thankfully, my son was open and honest as he processed his feelings. We talked about how scared he was, and the shock of being assaulted weighed heavily on him. While we made sure he knew he was the victim of a crime, we also took that opportunity to impress upon him to remember his feelings as he was hit, lest he ever decides to lash out with his fists. As my eyes filled with tears at the thought of my firstborn hurting, he hugged me and told me he was okay.

He told me he forgave the boy who’d hit him.

“Anger eats you up, Mom. I don’t have time for hate,” he said, with a lopsided grin. In that moment, I realized my son is one of the strongest men I know.

The following week, there were calls and emails to his teachers. We had discussions with our son about how he’d handle another outburst, and we listened to him process his shock of being attacked unprovoked.

My instinct was to take him outside and show him how to throw solid punches. I wanted to enroll him in karate or another self-defense type class so he’d never feel vulnerable again. I resisted the urge to storm over to the offending child’s house and demand an apology from him and his parents. I was upset and unnerved that my son had been in danger.

But my son’s words continued to reverberate in my head, “Anger will eat you up, Mom.”

He was right.

My son chose to handle the situation at school with the help of his teachers. He requested a meeting with the other boy and asked for help in talking it out. The boy complied, and to his credit, it was a turning point for all involved. My son gave a kid who made a bad choice a second chance and gave me a lesson in forgiveness I won’t soon forget. With his words and quiet strength, he shook hands with the boy and, I’m told, said, “I like this kind of hand contact better.”

Boys will be boys, yes. But it takes real strength to be a man, and thankfully, my son seems to be on the right path. And though he came out of this experience seemingly unscathed, I won’t lie and say that my mama bear claws aren’t at the ready at all times to protect my cubs.