Bullying in Middle School: How to Love the Victim and the Bully, by Charmaine Mitchel

bullying blog

Bullying has been the subject of conversation in the media and in our communities for some time now. Six years ago, my oldest daughter was bullied in middle school, but I wasn’t aware to what extent until much later when she was at a wilderness therapy program. She is 19 now and thanks to her journey, and our journey together, we have great awareness and communication in our family. 

So when my 13-year-old daughter felt sad often and not really interested in going to school, I saw a red flag. She complained of headaches and stomach aches. This was not like her at all. She didn’t really want to hang out with her friends on the weekend, it was just really out of character. She mentioned that at lunch time at school, her friend group wanted to play base tag and that she didn’t really want to play anymore. I asked her to share that with the group and she did, but she told me that the girls were mean to her and ridiculed her for not wanting to play. So of course what happened? She broke her arm playing base tag. Even with her cast, when she told the girls in her friend group that her mom said she couldn’t play because of her broken arm, the girls said: “your mom isn’t here and so you have to play.” My daughter chose to play base tag with a cast on.  I wasn’t aware of this until about a month later. It was of course her choice to play or walk away, however, the pressure to have friends and to be included at the age of 13 is HUGE. 

I felt so many emotions. I felt sad for her and for the other girls in the friend group.  There is that spot where I just wanted to fix it for her, but of course that”s not possible. I also felt grateful. Grateful that because of the journey with my first daughter, I would get a do-over of sorts. How could I support my 13-year-old best? I realized that the best gift I could give my daughter, is to listen, ask questions, provide the tools to navigate this situation and ideally for her to come up with a solution on her own. 

My daughter and I had lots of conversations about the situation and how she felt about it. I asked her if she had shared her feelings with the group and she said she had and that it hadn’t worked. She said she had made requests and still it hadn’t stopped. We discussed bullying and how someone could only bully her if she allowed it. Her main concern was the thought that if she left the friend group, she wouldn’t have any friends. She finally decided that she was going to take that chance because it didn’t feel good to be part of this friend group anymore. She had come to the conclusion that it was time to walk away. As I dropped her off that day, she turned to me and took a deep breath. We looked at each other and smiled. I told her that she was brave to stand for herself. I also reminded her that she could go to the guidance counselor to talk to her and that she could also call me at anytime. I called the guidance counselor and gave her a heads up about what was happening and she reached out to my daughter. Later that day, my daughter told me that she went to the counselor’s office and cried and cried. I am grateful that the counselors are there. I also decided to reach out to the parents in the friend group through a group texting thread that we had in place for group outings. They are such a wonderful group of women whom I adore and I felt that being open about what was happening for my daughter would perhaps lead to conversations with their own daughters. I felt sure that the friend group didn’t feel good to other girls as well, but they were just holding it inside. So I sent them this text:

“I wanted to let you all know what is going on for my daughter in the friend group at the moment. Obviously I can’t share details, because then I wouldn’t be honoring her trust in me. However, I love you all so very much and I believe in being vulnerable and transparent as much as I possibly can. My daughter feels sad and heartbroken about how unkind the girls have been toward her and to each other. There has been some bullying within the group and on social media. She has had a stomach ache going to school and dreads going to school everyday.I have let the school counselor know and she has been helpful. My daughter is choosing to not sit with the friend group at lunch today. This has been a hard decision for her as you can imagine. I share this with you, because I believe open lines of communication are important. And perhaps your daughters are feeling this way too? I don’t know. What I do know, is that it really does take a village to raise our children. Much love and blessings to you all.” 

The response I got back from the moms was one of concern, caring, and most of all support. A couple of the mothers contacted me privately to ask me if it was their daughter doing the bullying. I was clear that I didn’t want to name any names, as I wanted to honor the sacred space my daughter and I had created. Not to mention the fact that we are all doing the best we can, including ALL of the girls in the friend group. At the end of the day we are responsible for our own happiness. My daughter needed to take responsibility for her own happiness by walking away from something that didn’t feel good. She shared her feelings and she made a request to be treated with respect. When her request wasn’t honored, she came to the conclusion that it was time to walk away and make new friends. 

I am thrilled to say that she made new friends immediately. Last week she was home sick and she said she was so excited to return to school because she has so many amazing friends who care about her. Even the girls who previously bullied her are being kind to her even though she is no longer in that friend group. Its amazing what an act of self love can do. 

By Charmaine Mitchel