I saw the comment on my thirteen-year-old daughter’s Instagram page that read “You are so ugly” before she did. It was from a classmate she didn’t really know, and apparently it was over a boy. My daughter had a boyfriend and there was another girl who liked him.
I had no idea, but apparently the bullying had been going on for a few weeks, and my daughter was too nervous to say anything to me. After having multiple kids go through middle school, I know that there are kids who are comfortable telling a trusted teacher or parent right away if someone is bothering them, and then there are kids who aren’t, because they don’t want to look like they can’t handle it. Many kids will wait to speak until things get really bad, a friend gets help for them, or an adult sees something that makes them dig further.
I hate that it’s a thing, but it is. It’s reality and I want to warn you from one parent to another: Middle school bullying is worse than I thought it would be.
While my daughter was a little upset about the comment, she also seemed used to it. It has been an ongoing thing, unfortunately. She deleted it right away; I told her not to respond. Then I asked her a million questions about what was really going on. Had any of these girls harassed her? Did they follow her around school? Was she scared? Her shoulder shrug told me all I needed to know: yes, this bothered her and it was affecting her school life. I hated that this was something I may have never figured out without seeing the comment on her Instagram first.
My Mama Bear instinct kicked in. I found the girl who left a comment on Instagram and sent her a message. I told her girls should stick together, empower each other and not go after one another because of a boy. I added she was probably a lot nicer than she was acting, and that she should do better. Was that the right thing for me to do to step in and defend my daughter, I don’t know?
She and a few of her friends blew my DMs up with hateful messages telling me I was ugly, I needed a nose job, and they felt sorry for me and my daughter because we were disgusting.
I didn’t respond to them, and then I called the school to let them know what was going on. They took it seriously, and I’m not sure how, but those girls never bothered my daughter again.
Something similar happened to my son in middle school. There was another boy who had been harassing him for years, and I didn’t know until my son had enough and punched him in the face one day during gym class. He was suspended, and when I went to pick him up from school, the teacher and principal who were waiting with him told me that this boy had been bothering him for a long time but of course, hitting him in the face wasn’t okay and he had to be punished. After a few hours of pressing, my son told me that the boy had repeatedly gotten in his face after making fun of him and said, “You’d never hit me, you are such a weak little sh*t.”
These kids were all around 13 years old. According to teachers, they weren’t “bad” kids. And after their parents found out about what they’d done, the behavior stopped.
I know there are kids who have experiences that are a lot worse than my kids, but I was stunned about how rampant middle school bullying was. As my children have gotten older, they’ve told me more stories. My daughter has a friend who changed schools because of bullying, and my son knows someone who dropped out of high school because the harassment wouldn’t stop.
From a parent who has been there and had absolutely no idea what was going on until we were ‘“in” it, I learned really quickly to check my kids’ social media all the time. To talk to them every day about what was going on in school, and to remind them they’re not above anyone else and if they ever have a question in their mind whether something they might say or do could hurt someone, they need to stop.
The bad news is middle school was worse than I thought. The good news is the more I knew and the more I paid attention, the better it got. For my kids, and for me.