Four years ago my daughter (A) then aged 10, was the victim of some low-level bullying. I reported it and was satisfied with the way her teacher and the school administration handled it.
A year later she had made friends with another group of girls. The main bully from the previous group undermined that friendship by telling the alpha female of the second group (B) that A had been telling them stories about her and her group. This wasn’t true. B believed it anyway and told A that she didn’t want her to sit with her group anymore at lunchtime because she couldn’t trust her.
A lot of heartache and soul-searching followed for A as she questioned why two groups had turned on her in as many years but over the course of the next couple of years and a bit more maturity on everyone’s part, she came to be friends with both the alpha females again, albeit with a bit of reserve in both relationships.
Every now and again something comes up between A and B – something one of them says will bring back old memories. Today B told A that she never said “I don’t want to sit with someone I can’t trust”. Her memory is that A said it to her and then didn’t speak to her for a year.
Secondary school is sometimes a social minefield. My daughter is learning that there are fair-weather friends who can’t always be trusted and don’t always have an accurate view of reality.
The problem is – they won’t get this from other girls, at least not in a wise calm way. According to Professor Deborah Rickwood of Brainspace, girls who discuss their problems among themselves can often make each other worse not better. They need to be around adults. That’s the thing we have most misunderstood about teenagers – especially the early teens – we shouldn’t just leave them alone.
One of the trust relationships in the school context is student-student and in some ways it’s the hardest for schools to influence. For girls the presence of strong, admirable, trustworthy and supportive female teachers in their lives does make a difference. My feisty, stubborn and cynical daughter, who loves to dance but detests any other form of exercise and thinks she’s bad at anything athletic, just did a Physical Education unit with a teacher who encouraged and inspired her and made her want to do more physical activity.
This teacher did nothing pedagogically remarkable. In fact she told me that while she had run the theory section of the unit online in the past, she had reverted to paper this time because she felt it worked better.
What is remarkable is her commitment to supporting her students. I’m glad my daughter had the chance to work with and be inspired by this admirable woman.
Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/ericparker/3405307084/”>Eric.Parker</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>cc</a>