I had a conversation with my daughter the other day, in which she told me that two girls in her aftercare program had decided that she was a loser and that they would no longer be her friend (though they continued to harass her for the rest of the afternoon). She had commented on these two children before, and that they had previously frozen her out of their coupling. Her latest description of their behaviour wasn’t surprising.
As always, I asked what she had done with the situation, and she told me she’d told her school principal about a name-calling incident. The principal called everyone in her office to have a conversation about it, and to explain that while no one has to be friends with everyone, we all still have to be friendly to each other. I thought this was great – the principal was on top of it, and dealt with it early and well, in my opinion. I was also impressed with my child’s self-advocacy skills in identifying that something was bigger than she could handle on her own, and she went to a person she knew could take charge.
Then she told me the rest of the story: She and a few other girls had hatched a plot to make one of the girls think she was being befriended, only to leave her friendless at the end.
It was the freaking plot of Mean Girls, as interpreted by 8-year-olds. So not only was my child the target of relational bullying, but she was also an instigator (bully) in her own right. I asked her if she realized she was doing exactly the same thing as the other girls had done to her, and she said, “But I’m not going to be doing anything in the plan! I’m just going to watch! X and Y are the ones who are going to do everything!” I tried to explain that being the voluntary driver of the getaway car still means you’re part of the robbery, even if you’re not in the bank with guns. I also told her that I was glad she shared the brewing plot with me, and that I was going to have to talk to her teacher about the larger situation, as bullying of any kind is unacceptable. I let her know that she wasn’t going to get into trouble, but that if nothing was done while this was still small and manageable, it would only get worse.
I spoke with her teacher the next day. She’s going to go back to the principal to discuss the ongoing nature of this relationship, the fact that it spans both schools in the building, and that it’s growing in size.
I have a confession to make about all of this: As disappointed as I was to hear that my child was a bullying instigator, I was also relieved to see her acting like her peers, and in a very dysfunctional way, fitting in. Being surrounded by autism has warped my perspective, I think: I silently cheer when my kid acts like everyone else, even when everyone else is wrong. When it’s obvious she’s the social brains of the operation, I think to myself that she’ll probably struggle a bit less than she might have if she hadn’t cracked this social code. Sure, she won’t have the empathy or the sense of responsibility, but she will have the appearance of social success, which will permit her greater freedom in both her personal life and her career path. Lots of work to do on that responsibility piece. Better get started now.