I hope you can help us with this problem because we don’t know what to do. My daughter is being bullied by a group of girls who shun her at school and post cruel messages on social media at night. It’s so bad that she doesn’t even want to go to school. As I’m sure you can imagine, this is upsetting to us and ruins school as well as out-of-school activities for our daughter. This whole situation has me angry and confused. How do you think my wife and I should deal with it?
In this brave new world of cyber-space, you will encounter people who are nothing close to brave. You and your daughter probably feel helpless against this Lord of the Flies brand of senseless, gratuitous, and cowardly cruelty. However, you have recourse that could prove effective in stopping the e-bullying and shunning of your daughter, especially because of the cyber component.
First of all, you can contact the school where the shunning is taking place. If any social media are being used during school, you can also present that factor to the school administration for redress. If your daughter’s school has a 24-hour honor code, this cyber bullying would also be subsumed within that policy’s purview.
After being apprised of the bullying, the school would have to bring in the girls as well as their parents. In all likelihood, the parents will not know that they might be liable for the misconduct of their daughters, but legally they can be. Informing the parents in front of the girls should communicate to the girls the seriousness of this bullying breach. In addition to a violation of school rules, the behavior could also be illegal and involve the police—that’s no exaggeration.
If any threats or intimidation appear on social media, charges can be facilitated by the authorities without much trouble. The nature of cyber activity makes documentation easy to obtain and those using it easy to identify. For some inexplicable reason, people who violate social or legal norms via social media have little idea how easy they are to catch. Why they do it is hard to explain.
If your daughter wonders why these girls are mistreating her, tell her that you don’t know but that something is wrong with them, not her; more to the point, the reasons for such malicious misconduct are really beside the point as far as you are concerned. You and your wife are not sociologists, or psychologists, or criminologists whose professional function is to explain this anti-social behavior; you are parents who want to stop it.
In Jane Eyre, the young Jane resolves to confront the perpetrators of her cruel mistreatment with superior force; in the circumstance of your daughter, I agree with Jane’s approach. When I was younger than your daughter, my father told me not to back down from a bully and to let him know that he was going to get a fight if he tried to pick on me. As I recall, the bully backed down and off after I gave him a fight.
The result should be the same in your daughter’s case, except the fight is legal. Just as Jane Eyre wanted her tormentors to suffer, so should you expect your daughter’s malefactors to feel the sting of the law’s redress. Through the school or the police, you and your wife can let the bullying girls (and their parents) know they’ve been in a fight. The superior and legitimate force of the authorities, whether the school or the police, should produce discomfort if not pain for the bullies and their parents.
A song from the 70s by Hall & Oates contains the lyrics: “It’s so easy to hurt others when you can’t feel pain.” Since pain (like death) has a marvelous way of concentrating the mind, maybe for these Mean Girls, this new focus for them will bring some new feeling for others. Now you can do more than hope.
Got questions about life? Love? Parenting? Work? Write to Whit’s End, an advice column by local husband, father, teacher, coach, former executive and former Marine Corps officer Al Whitaker. Send your questions to [email protected]
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