My daughter started Year 9 joyfully. She had two lovely friends and they were all together in the same class. They were estatic when they found that out last year. Then suddenly three weeks into this year she told me that she wanted to change schools. She said everything had gone wrong and that everyone hated her. She was inconsolable; sobbing into her pillow, she wouldn’t eat and she begged me not to tell anyone! She said it would just get worse if I did. What should I do? I am so worried about her?
It is an awful feeling when your child comes home miserable from school. It’s worse when you hear that it is because she is being excluded and that her so-called friends are being mean. You just want her to be happy, safe and well liked. When she adds that she doesn’t want you to tell anyone, you feel frustrated and helpless.
You want to protect her and your immediate urge is to march up to the school, shake sense into the bullies, and then storm into the Principal’s office and demand that he makes it stop.
There is nothing wrong with feeling like doing these things but…deep breath, first things first – you must listen to your child.
So, make a cup of tea, and make time to sit and hear her out. Teens in this situation will often ‘catastrophise’. ‘One girl’ will become ‘all the girls’, she will use words like ‘never’ and ‘always’ and ‘they’ and ‘them’. It will be hard for you to get the details in order as events and incidents will pour out in a tumble. It is even harder for you to make sense of anything she tells you as it will often be out of sequence - so try not to focus on ‘who said what to whom’ and ‘who did what where’ and just tap into and respond to her feelings.
She will be feeling excluded, scared, humiliated perhaps, embarrassed, and sometimes ‘trapped’. She needs you to listen, empathise with her and finally and gingerly to offer suggestions to help her to find the way out. And there is always a way out, she needs you to say this.
She needs to know that you hear how miserable she is and you understand that she thinks it will never get any better. She also needs to put her trust in you that it will get better and it will pass. This comes with time.
She needs to know that there is always a solution to every problem. That it may take time, it may take courage but there is always an answer.
Open the door to a new school – a new school that is as good as the one she is currently at – not the one that all her primary friends went to. This may be her immediate thought – it feels comforting but her primary friends will have moved on and she will not necessarily be welcomed back into their group. If you don’t open the door, teenagers have a habit of kicking it down. If it is left ajar the pressure is reduced.
But make it clear to her that a new school is a last resort – these sorts of relationship issues happen in life; at school, at work and in families and it is a learning experience to manage them and travel through them. Give her some suggestions to work through these problems – she could speak directly to the girls involved and let them know how she is left feeling. Identify another friend and arrange to have lunch with them to give her and them some breathing space.
Girls in Year 9 and onwards begin to exercise their power – they test it out to see if and what works. They test it out on teachers, on parents, on boyfriends and even on their girlfriends. They don’t often realise its effect and that in itself is part of the ‘testing’ process. In a way it is like an experiment and your daughter may find herself caught up in it. She is also likely to be testing out her power in all sorts of ways as well.
Next ring her Level Manager/Head of House/Form Tutor. Don’t tell her. Ask the teacher you speak to, to keep it confidential for the moment. It may give you a different or broader perspective and you will feel better knowing that you have a second pair of eyes monitoring the situation at school and keeping you in touch.
Remember not to panic. Often a child will come home devastated one day. You agonise all the next day when they are at school only to have them come home that night having had a great day and having forgotten all about whatever it was! You will not be the first parent who has worried all day only to be told, “Nah, it was fine, Mum.”!
Wait and watch and talk. It may go away as quickly as it started without your intervention and without the School’s but if it doesn’t then it is time to intervene. This may firstly involve you bringing your daughter to school to discuss it with the pastoral staff. It may be a discussion worth having with the Counselor. Eventually if the girls are continuing to exclude and bully and/or are also texting and Facebooking then School intervention might be required. This is always done sensitively and reasonably so that your daughter is protected.
In the end the most important things for all involved is to listen to it, to talk about it, and finally to do something about it when necessary. Remember that most girls at some time in Secondary school have relationship issues often with ‘best friends’. These are usually resolved; sometimes best friends become enemies often to become best friends again.
Very occasionally it becomes serious enough for the police to be involved but I can say to you that in 30 years of teaching in 4 different countries and in 8 or 9 schools it has never reached this level in the case of an individual girl. The School has always been able to intervene and find a resolution.
If the bullying is occuring on Social Media sites out of School hours please know that the School will help you manage it. Schools believe that it is they that have created the environment and opportunity for these young people to meet and form relationships and therefore are also responsible to help these same young people and their parents to navigate their relationships within and without the School grounds.
At the end of the day, it is better to be safe than sorry. Pick up the phone and call your School if you are at all concerned. A problem shared is a problem halved!