I want to talk about my elder daughter. She is 13 years old today, and she’s probably the bravest, most resilient person I know.
For a host of complicated reasons and many depressingly simple ones, she’s suffered with persistent bullying at her secondary school, for a good deal of her time in both Years 7 & 8. When issues have come to light, we’ve raised them with the school, who have responded quickly and supported her outside of these actions. But the bullies keep coming, and are seemingly never short of new ways to intimidate and demean her.
I don’t want to talk about the details of what she’s had to deal with, or my concerns about the ineffectiveness of some of the school’s responses, or that there may be a bullying culture within elements of her year-group. I don’t want to talk about how this has affected Rachel and I, or even how grateful we have been to many friends for their support. I don’t want to talk about how a few of her class-mates ‘found’ and followed me on Instagram, seemingly intent on looking for pictures of her (she doesn’t have social media accounts). I don’t even want to talk about the obscene, pre-meditated, coordinated text messages that led the school to recommend we involve the police.
I want to talk about my daughter. Throughout all this she has been amazing. Young in her year, she can lack confidence in social situations. She often seems more comfortable talking with adults than her peers. She withdraws from situations or people she finds difficult or uncomfortable. And yet, despite the regular undermining of her self-esteem, she rarely (if ever) stopped being enthusiastic about going to school, about learning and discovering. She continued to have singing lessons, has been an active member in the school a capella choir, performed in drama productions, wanting to be involved in the school. Three months ago she picked up a saxophone for the first time, and last week she took her Grade 1 exam. Her academic progress has been good; none of her teachers have remarked about any change in her attitude or performance. She’s shown more inner resolve and strength than I imagined possible. She has been a credit to us and to her school in the face of ongoing taunting and intimidation from both boys and girls.
When she was asked by the (brilliant) local police officer what she wanted to happen to the culprit behind most of the text messages, she wasn’t bitter or vengeful.
I just want it to stop…
If only I could have been so level-headed through these last few weeks, during which the full extent of the bullying has gradually and horribly become clear. I’ve been through pretty much the full grief cycle, including rage, despair and guilt. I’ve felt ashamed for not protecting her, angry and frustrated at myself and everyone else for the wrongs she’s had to endure.
But we’ve taken steps to make it stop. We’ve worked with the school to ensure the offenders are left in no doubt that their behaviour has been, is and always will be unacceptable. Irrespective of that, she is moving to a new school. We believe she needs a fresh start, and we believe she will only get it in a different place. We want it to stop too, and we’re helping her build her confidence to step outside her comfort zone in the social life of a (much larger) school. We hope she can believe that she’s better than the bullies in every way imaginable and re-start what we hope will be the best years of her life (so far, anyway). Because she’s worth it.