Yesterday someone told me what had happened to the daughter of a friend.
The quiet and fairly studious Year Seven girl was having a birthday party. She invited four girls from her class – girls that she thought she got on with OK, although they weren’t close friends. They all accepted the invitations.
The mother did the preparations and the girl looked forward to the occasion.
On the day, none of the four girls turned up. None.
I can well imagine the anger of the mother who had prepared the party, but I can’t begin imagine the misery, hurt and humiliation of her daughter or the loss of self-esteem and anxiety about having to go back to school on Monday to face those girls.
I can’t be bothered trying to work out why they might have done this. Was there a ring-leader who peer-pressured the others into going along with her nasty little plan? Who knows? Perhaps they did it simply because they could.
But I spent a lot of time wondering what I would do in this situation if it happened to my daughter.
If I thought my daughter could carry it off, I’d remind her that ‘living well is the best revenge’ – or, in this case, appearing to live well. I’d suggest that on Monday she go up to the girls, singly or in their group, and say something like, ‘I’m sorry you couldn’t come on Saturday. You missed a great party! Perhaps next time ….’
But that would probably be a tough ask for a girl crippled by the cruelty exhibited towards her.
Probably I’d talk to the teacher – not with any desire to have this particular incident addressed at school because that might put my daughter in an even more unpleasant position in relation to these girls – but certainly so that the teacher was aware of the bullying that was occurring and alert to future manifestations.
Having said that, the kind of subtle bullying in which girls engage – the raised eyebrow, the facial expression, the turned back, the refusal to share – can be very hard to pin down. The girl on the receiving end can hardly draw attention to the bullying by complaining about being ‘looked at’ in a particular way.
Which makes it all the more vital that teachers notice this kind of thing, and having noticed it, act to make it clear that this kind of behaviour is not acceptable in the classroom.
Would I try to speak to the parents of the girls? Probably not. I find it difficult to believe that they would have been aware of what was happening and, unfortunately, it’s often the case that parents are so protective and blinkered when it comes to their children, that they wouldn’t believe them capable of such cruelty, anyway. … But they are.
Bullying of any kind is one of the (many) reasons why the teaching of literature in our schools is so important. Literature encourages the use of imagination, and with imagination we are able to develop empathy and compassion. Empathy is exactly what these girls lacked: they had no idea what it would be like for the girl whom they so thoughtlessly snubbed – which is what enabled them to act the way they did.
If you’re a parent, what would you do if it were your child in the situation I’ve just described?
If you’re a teacher, and you were told about this situation occurring among students in your class, how would you handle it?