It’s actually harder than you would imagine. Seeing my daughter in floods of tears because her entire friendship group had not only ostracised her, but were ensuring that nobody else would dare to speak to her, I made the decision to remove her from the situation. It had gone on for 3 weeks and showed no signs of abating, as more and more people were drawn into the argument. Children, as everyone knows, can be vicious, and none more so than 13-year-old girls. I witnessed the notorious social media networks of high school kids in action, as my daughter told me people she hardly knew were ‘popping up’ and telling her she was wrong.
She was afraid to walk around her home town. ‘Everybody’ hated her.
The school could not solve the problem, but far from acknowledging that they had failed, they suggested I refer her to the doctor for help with her anxiety. They were concerned it was a sign of mental health problems.
I let her stay at home, and away from the glares of other children her confidence returned. She could still see the outpourings of hate on social media – but she could turn it off, at least. I hired a maths and science tutor. I (sort of) home-schooled her. She read books and did maths and science homework from the tutor, and drove my parents mad being monosyllabic and staying in her pyjamas all day. (Luckily I happen to be in the middle of one of my many life crises and am living at home with my parents, so I was able to continue going to work knowing she was not alone).
As things began to seem calmer, I stopped panicking about moving to another city to escape it all. We decided to apply for a transfer to a nearby school. I’m an 80s child – it’s hard for me to conceive of how wide and far-reaching is the grapevine of the 21st century. I was shocked when people my daughter knew at the new school suddenly stopped speaking to her.
It turns out we were not to be allowed to go quietly. The children at the school she had left behind were outraged that she had dared to walk away from them. They were spitting venom all the way down the road to the new school, so that that too was poisoned for her. The advantage of going quietly (it seriously pissed them off, without even trying) was somewhat outweighed by the revenge they took. All of the nasty gossip and spite would follow her when she moved. I quickly changed my transfer request, to yet another school, now further away (too far to walk) and my resourceful daughter found friends there too, her social network being again wider and more far-reaching than I could have imagined at her age. When the bullies tried to turn these girls against her, too, it didn’t work.
We have a meeting with the headteacher tomorrow and after that we go shopping for new school uniform. My daughter has it on good authority that she must wear a certain brand of shoe and have a particular colour bag.
I know she’ll never blend into the background – my daughter can’t do that – but I am quietly optimistic about this move. Sometimes, you can just walk away…