Last updated on Jun 21st, 2021 at 02:56 pm

Bullying is not only primary schoolboys who kick each other under the desks. Bullying can be subtle: eye rolling, sneers, ‘looks’ and exclusion – and teenage girls are masters at the game, I’ve discovered

School for me was pretty stress-free and left no scars. I had my ‘tribe’ and we supported each other (mostly). But high school has not been the same experience for my daughter. I think being a teenager in the world of Wi-Fi is a battle as tough as The Hunger Games. It’s a jungle out there.

With the invention of the smart phone, cyber-bullying has become prolific among all children who are allowed a phone – and who loves a phone more than a teenage girl?

I can’t say that my daughter was subjected to hate mail (much) – it was more the exclusion and isolation she suffered that almost (but thank goodness didn’t) destroyed her time at high school.

The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference

These words are so true: you can fight back against anger but pretending someone doesn’t exist is the cruelest way to break them – as women in loveless marriages can attest to, I’m sure.

My daughter arrived at a new school near the end of Grade 9 – possibly the WORST time in her life for a reserved and somewhat insecure 15-year-old to change schools (AND cities AND provinces!).

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Meeting the tribes

She’s never – and never will be – the type of girl to burst into a room and announce her arrival. Rather she waits to be invited in. And at first she was. The grade nines at her new school were very distinctly divided into groups – and you didn’t DARE stray over the line to sit with one of the ‘other groups’ – if you did, you were declared a traitor.

Teenage girls move in tribes, and your tribe means everything. Their opinion, acceptance (or rejection) determines how easy or difficult high school will be

What kept her awake the night before her first day at the new school, was who she was going to sit with at break. She’s a straight-A student, gets on with most teachers, and the classroom has never been a stressful environment for her. It’s the playground politics that have always been the cause of sore tummies and tears.

I waited with trepidation for her to come home at the end of her first day, and was delighted when she arrived with a new friend. She had been invited to sit with one of the three groups – and had been told which groups to avoid, and why (aargh! Whatever happened to the little six-year-olds who all played together once upon a time?) She was happy and had somewhere to go when she arrived at school the next day.

Over the next six months, she had some girls to sleep over, and I gradually learned a bit about her new friends when she opened up a bit, without me prying too much. She had a BFF for a while, but soon this one was replaced with a new one – and there were the odd falling outs. All normal teenage girl stuff.

It was when she started to excel at school that the problems began

It seems that among some girls, you’re fine if you’re average, but if you get As for every subject and have a talent that distinguishes you from the tribe, then jealousy rears its head.

My daughter was selected to sing at an international talent contest in the USA. She had to miss two weeks of school as this took place during the US school holidays in late July.

Her friends wished her good luck and some kept in touch while she was away. But the more she posted pics of her experiences in New York and Orlando, the fewer responses she got from the gang. When she returned home (with little gifts for all her friends), some of them started ignoring her at school.

She discovered that they had started a WhatsApp group for their tribe – but she was excluded

It broke my heart to see her hovering on the outskirts of a circle of girls when I fetched her from school…. and the messages on social media were worse.

Unkind words and parties that she wasn’t invited to became the norm, and she cried herself to sleep on many nights. As a parent, the lioness in me was dying to confront these little ******* or at least phone their parents, but she begged me not to.

This story does have a happy ending!

2018 was an awful year for her but she got through it and has emerged stronger. She was accepted into the provincial youth choir and spent a week in December at a choir camp where she was exposed to passionate, talented, and most importantly, supportive and compassionate teenagers who treated her with love and kindness.

And the night before school started this year, she received a WhatsApp message from a mature, down-to-earth and humble girl (who is both the top academic in her grade and an accomplished surfer, so no reason for jealousy to rear its ugly head here!) inviting her to sit with their group at school.

I’m happy to say that my daughter is happier, more secure in herself and is finally beginning to feel accepted in the jungle out there. I was so proud of her for sending this message to her former ‘group’ last week, asserting that she has value as a person and is no longer willing to accept second best in life:


I hope that this deeply personal experience I’ve shared will offer hope to other moms who are feeling as helpless as I was. If your daughter (or son) finds a way to believe in themselves, and just finds one or two kind and empathetic teens to reach out to, then navigating the turbulent waters of the teenage years can be a bit less stressful – for both them and their parents.