Last week I read a story about a 12 year old girl in America – another victim of bullying – who took her own life. Perhaps it was as a result of casual cruelty, or more likely a reaction to deliberate and sustained meanness.
Years in the classroom and playground have allowed me to witness kids being casually mean. Someone coined this behavior, “the casualty brutality of youth”. But it’s not exclusive to the young – adults too can be casually cruel – a throwaway comment or thoughtless remark – sometimes it’s too easy to inflict pain.
Social media facilities this sort of meanness but you can’t blame social media, at least not entirely. Sometimes cruelty comes in the form of exclusion: bullying by omission.
My daughter, (I’ll call her Poppet here) wasn’t invited to a party. This mightn’t sound very bad. You can’t be invited to everything and coping with disappointment is part of life, it’s good for you – character building and all that. But this was different. Everyone was invited to this party, well, everyone she knew. Party Girl was part of the wider group of friends, Poppet’s friends were Party Girl’s friends…everyone, every girl her year was invited as well as girls from other schools, friends of friends, acquaintances yet pointedly, deliberately, Poppet wasn’t. All her friends were going, not one refused – Poppet didn’t expect them to – A party’s a party who could resist?
It was a sixteenth with the theme Neon and it was held in a fancy mansion, with catered food and a DJ. Fluorescent paint and glow sticks were dispensed at the door on arrival.
Poppet was inconsolable…she cried a lot and couldn’t sleep. She looked too pale and I was worried. I tried to help but couldn’t. I wanted to ring the Principal, to alert her to this suffering. I wanted to ring Party Girl; I wanted to call her mother, drop into her house and beg her to reconsider. But I didn’t. Besides, I hated this girl for the pain she inflicted.
There were weeks of pre-party talk at school – excited lunches and recesses filled with descriptions of neon outfits and fluoro dresses; shopping expeditions to buy the right outfits and shoes. All the while Poppet smiled, pretending she didn’t care.
The party came and went and still it wasn’t over – “The best party all year!” Post-party talk dominated and two more weeks of Facebook posts, hundreds of photos watching friends having the time of their lives. I told her not to look at them, that it was silly to torture herself, but she looked at every photo on friends’ phones, on Facebook and Instagram, on Tumblr. She couldn’t stay away.
As a parent I felt completely ineffectual during this time and realised that there is a limit to how much power a parent has in erasing the pain caused by exclusion and rejection. We found out the reason for the lack of invitation when it was all over. Party Girl wasn’t a very bad, mean girl after all…just a normal, regular girl who felt jealous, who found out a boy she liked preferred someone else.
Has your child ever been excluded from a party or invitation to play? Was it difficult to deal with for you and your child?