Daughter involved in bullying; did I do the right thing?
March 3, 2014 5:55 PM   Subscribe

A photo was taken of my 10 year old daughter doing a racist impression of an asian classmate. I found the photo on my daughter's phone and subsequently discovered that she had sent this to two of her friends. She has been duly punished and lectured on why this was wrong and my wife contacted the parents of her friends to ensure that the photo was also deleted from their phones (which it was). We had hoped this would be the last of it, however someone informed the school of this and now things have blown up into a much bigger issue; it turns out that there has been an ongoing campaign of bullying against the asian girl by all the girls in the class and this incident, combined with another far worse incident, has meant this has been dragged in front of the entire class, with my daughter now the target for abuse because other parents refuse to believe that their girls could be involved. If we had kept our mouths shut and kept this incident entirely within the family, the chances are nobody else would have ever heard about this but my daughter would still have been punished and taught a major life lesson. Now she is learning a far more frightening life lesson (that adults can be shit too) and things are spiraling out of control. I am now suffering guilt about the pandora's box I have opened on her. Could I have handled this better?

The photo was taken about 3 weeks ago; I discovered it the day after it was taken and my daughter has been living with the consequences almost daily since then.

At this point you will need to take my word that I know my daughter and I fully believe that when the photo was taken she had no intention of it being seen by the asian girl; it was meant for the purposes of an immediate "laugh" between herself and her friends and I very much doubt that she had given *any* thought to the consequences beyond that particular moment. I could bring to the table many, many character witnesses that would say was completely out of character - although, admittedly, she does have a tendency to be easily led. When the enormity of what she had done was brought home to her she was horrified at her actions and is desperate to correct the mistake. She's a good kid, but, boy, did she fuck up this time.

Also, let me state now that I am fully aware of the consequences of bullying, since I was severely bullied myself at school, so I am horrified at my daughter's actions and fully believe she should face appropriate consequences (which she has). My main concern now is that the consequences have become disproportionate to the act - confrontations with other parents in the playground (because "their kid could never have been involved in something like this") - and I feel myself to blame for what she is going through (although obviously she is to blame for her initial actions).

The latest incident was because the parents of the girl who took the photo (both of my daughter's hands are in the picture) refuse to believe she could be involved, even though my daughter has no reason to lie (her teacher asked her directly who took the photo and she told the truth). This is by far the most trivial aspect of this whole thing, however is proving to be the point at which the wheels fall off completely. I believe this is partly because the parents in question are very prideful and see an admission of guilt as a reflection on them.

Now I recognize that, at the heart of this, there is a girl who has faced exclusion and bullying and I know, from personal experience, what a toll this can have psychologically, so please don't think I am down-playing her experience next to my daughter's. Our main concern - and indeed my daughter's once she realized the consequences - was that this girl should be protected from any exposure to this incident, of which she was entirely unaware until things blew up out of our control. I do recognize that, as has now become apparent (it was not widely known before), in some respects it was good that this did unearth that something ugly that has been going on for a while (the class teacher has been unaware of the scale of the problem). As I mentioned above, my daughter's action has come to light in conjunction with another girl's action that was far worse (a direct, physical action made with the intention to cause anguish). If I take anything "good" from this, it is that hopefully this will see an end to the bullying.

The thing that is eating at my guts is that my daughter is 10 years old and has never done anything like this before. She has been fully and proportionately punished and lectured by myself and my wife, she fully understands the consequences of her actions. However, for the last three weeks she has also been lectured by on a daily basis by virtually every adult she has encountered (news spreads fast in the school), some of whom she has deep respect for. She has been rejected by her friends (who were involved!) and now she is facing abuse from parents who refuse to face facts. This, to me, is disproportionate and is the direct result of my deciding that we needed to involve people beyond the family unit; the chances are the photo would never have gone further than the two recipients' phones (I believe it was one of the girls who received the photo who was convinced to approach a teacher by her parents, which might well be a valid action on their part, but not one I would have chosen myself).

Sometimes being a parent is shit.

So, how would you have handled this differently?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (53 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Yeah, NEVER involve other parents. Gone are the days of "it takes a village" if indeed they ever existed. You simply cannot trust other adults to have the same attitudes and morals when it comes to raising children. I knew this as a kid, my naive parents did not always get it.

I would seriously consider switching schools for your daughter if things don't improve.

Also, a quibble; this was not bullying. It was making a private joke in extremely poor taste, gossiping, and being naive enough to leave photographic proof- but not bullying.
posted by quincunx at 6:02 PM on March 3, 2014 [24 favorites]

I agree that this was bullying, but your daughter doesn't need to be confronted by other parents about her behavior. That's inappropriate. Maybe you could give her a short script to use if any adult confrontation happens again: "My parents don't want me to talk about this anymore. I can give you Dad's number if you want to talk to him about it."
posted by woodvine at 6:15 PM on March 3, 2014 [71 favorites]

Did I do the right thing?

You did the best you could with the information you had at the time. It's unfortunate that the other girls' parents have chosen to teach their daughters how to cover their asses and lie instead of teaching them a lesson on it being wrong to make fun of others. As painful as it is for your daughter, she will come out of this with the far better set of life skills.

I would have a conversation with the principal about the inappropriateness of other parents confronting your child on school property. You went into this with good intentions and did what you thought was best for all involved. Don't beat yourself up.
posted by cecic at 6:18 PM on March 3, 2014 [56 favorites]

This was bullying.

And you did the right thing.

The problem is - people suck. They are responding by bullying your daughter. Now, you are on the other side of it. Now YOU need to go see the principal about YOUR daughter being bullyed.
posted by Flood at 6:18 PM on March 3, 2014 [16 favorites]

I totally agree with quincunx that this is, at most, borderline bullying. Even your reaction to your daughter's behavior seems a little over the top to me, although I suspect that your language was chosen to avoid being accused of coddling little bullies. Seriously, though, ten-year-olds are just not that mature that the kinds of evil intent being ascribed to them is at all appropriate. They're just dorky little kids, only starting to figure out their way in the world. The parents in your school sound like a total nightmare, all jumping on the bandwagon. As if they never did anything like this when they were ten ... or fourteen ... or last month. And as if coming down on your daughter like a ton of bricks will make her a better citizen.

Pull your daughter out of school for a while if she's the kind who will benefit from a mini vacation from the crap. Give her extra love. Talk to her about proportionate responses. This isn't coddling a bully. It's loving your daughter when taking responsibility for her actions went totally awry. You're the one in her corner, now and forever, and this is a great time to demonstrate that to her.

I love woodvine's suggestion to refer other adults to you. "I have no comment. Please contact my attorney for further discussions." She should be taught that it's okay to just step away from bullies, even when they're the parents of classmates.

And it sounds like time to speak to the school about protecting your daughter from adults who've taken on the role of auxiliary parents. This is totally not their place, and the school should stop them.

So sorry for your little one. So, so sorry.
posted by Capri at 6:20 PM on March 3, 2014 [17 favorites]

confrontations with other parents in the playground (because "their kid could never have been involved in something like this")

However, for the last three weeks she has also been lectured by on a daily basis by virtually every adult she has encountered (news spreads fast in the school), some of whom she has deep respect for.

So, wait, the other girls' parents have approached and reprimanded her on school property? Does the school know about this, because if they do and they aren't putting a stop to it, I would start raising hell. That's incredibly inappropriate.

Yes, I think you did the right thing by informing other parents and letting them deal with it on their terms. It's the other adults in this situation who are acting poorly.
posted by kagredon at 6:21 PM on March 3, 2014 [12 favorites]

Oy. This situation sucks.

I actually think you did the right thing. It was, in my opinion, right to talk to the other parents. You modeled the right behavior for your daughter which is taking full responsibility for what happened.

It's not clear to me if you have directly contacted the parents of the bullied girl, which seems like the missing piece here, and one thing that I would do, and make clear to my daughter I was doing, to show how to own our actions.

But at this point, the only adults or kid who has a right to talk to you and your kid about this are the parents of the girl who is the subject of the bullying, and the girl herself. Besides that, you are within reason to make limits to protect your daughter now.

I think it would be appropriate to contact the parents of the other bullying girls again, not to open dialog with them, but to make clear you (and the school) are in charge of disciplining your daughter and they are not welcome to keep making comments to her. I would also request that the school get involved and keep adults from talking to your daughter on the playground.

This is a shitty situation that, I am guessing, is unlikely to result in your daughter learning important lessons about racism, but is much more likely to leave her feeling persecuted.

It might be worth thinking about getting your daughter into some outside activities with a different group of kids - to help her form some new friendships untainted by this situation. That could also be an opportunity to help build in socializing with a broader range of kids, to learn to get along with different kinds of kids - maybe not just kids of different ethnic groups than your own, but kids of different temperaments, economic backgrounds, etc.

Sorry, sounds really hard.
posted by latkes at 6:26 PM on March 3, 2014 [9 favorites]

You had to talk to the other parents to get the photo deleted. No way that photo would not have gone further at some point. No need to beat yourself up about that. Be extra loving and supportive to your daughter for the next while and talk to her teachers about what she is experiencing. They need to also protect her from abuse. I was also going to suggest a script as woodvine did above. What an awful situation for your family. Circle the wagons and love each other all the more.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:26 PM on March 3, 2014 [8 favorites]

I think that you did the right thing and the result is likely an effective reduction of bullying of your daughter's Asian classmate, if only because the ostracisation of your daughter is now an example to others and the secret aspect of the bullying is now eliminated. It sounds like her Asian classmate was enduring a lot as you write, "it turns out that there has been an ongoing campaign of bullying against the asian girl by all the girls in the class and this incident, combined with another far worse incident..." "...a direct, physical action made with the intention to cause anguish. " This is bullying both physical and non-physical and it needed to be addressed and stopped.

I would approach your daughter's teacher and have a discussion that covers the entire situation and that fact that your daughter is now targeted and other children who were bullying have not been held accountable. This might be a good time to devote class time to a presentation on bullying and responsibility. Hopefully the teachers and administration will be ready to finally take some action as much of the bullying was happening under their noses and they didn't notice. Your daughter's teacher might also consider letting the rest of the adults at school know that your daughter has endured daily lectures from many of them and now would be a good time to cut that out. As for the other parents, they should also be told by the administration that they can't lecture your daughter on school property.

The situation has taken a bad turn mostly due to other parents who can't parent well, but help your daughter navigate as best as you can. It's an important for her to learn that adults don't always do the right thing. Love her up a lot and let her know that this, too, shall pass.
posted by quince at 6:29 PM on March 3, 2014 [9 favorites]

Wow, all of these adults lecturing her and friends giving her the cold shoulder after three weeks? She is 10. Ignore these other parents and adults and keep your chin up. What your daughter did was mean-spirited, but not the end of the world. If it doesn't blow over and actual teachers (and not parents) are still on about it, you should send an email to the principal or request a conference. You can't do anything about the friends or the parents. I wouldn't worry about them or how they parent. It's beyond your control. Do you think your kid is pretty resilient and has other friends? If so, good deal. Your daughter will be fine.

Not too long ago I read a text that my 13-year-old son sent to his friend. It said something like, "Come over fag face." I talked to him about it, expressed how using that kind of language is hateful and rude, why it's hateful, I don't ever want to see it again, yada, yada. I took his phone for a while. I feel bad that he used that word. I wondered if the mom of the friend saw it. I felt anxious that she may think we are Neanderthals. I only felt anxious for a moment. Kids will make mistakes. I let it go and handled it with my kid.
posted by Fairchild at 6:30 PM on March 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

So, unrelated adults/other parents are approaching your child in a confrontational manner without other adults present/unsupervised ("on the playground")? This is so wildly inappropriate in my eyes and I'm very sorry you're having to deal with this backlash. If this is the case, I would contact these people personally (by phone) and respectfully explain you don't feel comfortable with their actions toward your child, she is being punished accordingly at school and at home and you hope they will treat your daughter with compassion and leave the discipline to you. If it is as omnipresent as you say, I would consider talking to the teacher and relevant administrators to explain your concerns and the stress and social consequences your child is experiencing and ask them if they can step in and diffuse/stop these confrontations. If other teachers or school employees are also offering unsolicited lectures to your daughter outside of formal disciplinary meetings/discussions, I would also register my concern about this and ask how they will remedy it.

Most of all, if your daughter is remorseful and abiding whatever punishment has been agreed upon, I would most definitely reinforce with her that you love her and believe she is a good person who made a mistake and you're proud of her for doing whatever she needed to do to make it right. Giving her tips for dealing with adults who make her feel bad could be in order too (like the script, telling you or a teacher, etc.)

As per your actual question, you handled this just fine and I believe it was good to nip the photo in the bud by contacting the other families (otherwise the kids might have forwarded it to other kids and who knows where it would end up.) Sorry other adults chose to act inappropriately.
posted by dahliachewswell at 6:30 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

1. It was not bullying. You can't bully somebody who's unaware of it, and there was no intent to make the child aware of it.
2. What it was, was a racist slur -- which IS unacceptable even if the object of the slur is not within hearing distance -- and you were right to lecture your kid and try to destroy the slur.
3. A parent who engages your kid on this issue is WAY out of line. That's real bullying -- and likely in violation of the law. It's not a bad lesson for a kid, even a 10-year-old, to learn that adults can be bullies -- even when they're lecturing about 'bullying.'
4. If your daughter really wants to correct her mistake, the single best thing she can do is befriend the Asian child. No mea culpa, no drama. Just befriend, openly and publicly. If other kids draw back -- and I don't minimize the effect that can have on a 10-year-old -- still, if she's ready, there is nothing more empowering than embracing an outcast. There's a growth opportunity here.
posted by LonnieK at 6:33 PM on March 3, 2014 [7 favorites]

If other adults are confronting your 10 year old, you need to get in the middle of that, either through the school or by calling them yourself.

Has your daughter apologized to and/or befriended the Asian child? That might be a good step in making amends with the children in her own class who aren't speaking to her now.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:33 PM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Just to clarify: the reason I say it is not bullying is because your daughter showed a picture to her friends and not to the girl. Look, I have never done anything similar, even when I was a kid, but I would be flat out lying if I said I've never made fun of someone behind their back with my friends. I'm not proud of it, and I definitely don't do it for physical characteristics like race or being overweight- more like weird hair or goofy clothes- but the point I am trying to make here is going up to someone and making fun of them to their face is bullying. Laughing at them with your friends while they are there is bullying.

Making an in-joke with your friends is not quite the same thing. It is mean-spirited and wrong, but it doesn't tell me how your daughter actually treated the girl to her face- if she was unusually cruel or unusually exclusionary.
posted by quincunx at 6:34 PM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Anonymous has clearly stated there is an "ongoing campaign of bullying" of which this is only one incident. It doesn't really matter whether this single incident would be considered bullying if it happened in total isolation from the rest of the bullying.
posted by grouse at 6:37 PM on March 3, 2014 [22 favorites]

There's a lot of emotionally loaded language in your posting, which makes it difficult to determine specifically what happened.

After you talked to the other parents, it sounds like:
-Some of your daughter's friends have been avoiding her
-Some adults have talked to hear about it (who, specifically? teachers? how many parents?)
-What exactly is this "abuse" from parents towards your daughter?

I'm not criticizing your interpretation - it sounds like you did the right thing - just trying to determine what really happened here.

I am a teacher, and I have to tell you that in situations where a group of kids are involved in doing something wrong every single parent says that it is completely out of character for their child. I'm not saying that it's not for your daughter, I'm just pointing out that the other parents who are refusing to own up to their daughter's involvement are probably feeling a similar sense of shock and confusion as you are.

But I'm going to wait to give you some advice until we know a bit more about the specifics of what happened.
posted by leitmotif at 6:39 PM on March 3, 2014 [18 favorites]

I think it's good you called the other parents and got the picture deleted. I doubt refraining from asking the other parents to delete a picture of your daughter making a racial slur would have made things go any better.

It's too bad that your kid is now getting scapegoated. It would probably have been better if the realization that one of the schoolchildren has been the victim of severe and possibly racially motivated bullying had led everyone involved to learn or remember why scapegoating is a bad idea, instead of it just (apparently) causing them to turn on a new kid -- but I guess that's too much to ask for.

On the upside, all these people making terrible assumptions about your daughter, excluding her, and singling her out for punishments/humiliation, are probably teaching your kid something about what being the target of bigotry feels like. Hopefully, that will make her more empathetic toward the schoolmate she was making bigoted jokes about; hopefully, that will teach her to be more empathetic toward people in general.

If I were you, I would encourage her learn more about groups like the Little Rock Nine or kids like Ruby Bridges (through books or movies), so that she has more context from which to learn whatever she can from her current situation ("current situation" meaning both the original bullying and the ostracization she's going through now). Of course she doesn't deserve the kind of treatment she's getting now, but the point is that *nobody does.*

If it's at all plausible, I would also think about contacting the parents of the bullied girl who your daughter made that bigoted joke about, to see if they would be amenable to the girls having a play date together; it would probably be a boon to both kids if they could become genuine friends.
posted by rue72 at 6:58 PM on March 3, 2014 [5 favorites]

I am not sure what the culture is like where you are, but in the part of Canada I am from, I would have contacted the principal immediately while documenting what had happened and what steps I had taken, in case there were legal issues; in Canada generally there are not.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:03 PM on March 3, 2014

Has your daughter apologized to and/or befriended the Asian child? That might be a good step in making amends with the children in her own class who aren't speaking to her now.

Or make a new friend. Perhaps there is an opportunity here for her to branch out and make some new friends.

I'm also in agreement with everyone else who says that anyone but you or the school speaking to your daughter about this incident is inappropriate. Let her know that it's not ok and at least she will know in her own mind that it's not ok.
posted by Youremyworld at 7:25 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Not a parent, but was bullied as a kid and would like to think I am not so far removed from my youth that I've forgotten what it's like.

If the girl who is being bullied doesn't know that this happened, for Pete's sake don't go telling her parents or her. If there's an ongoing campaign of bullying against this girl that you found out through the school, then everyone already knows there's a problem. No sense in rubbing salt in the wound by telling her the latest mean thing some of her classmates did. It would not serve a purpose other than to make her feel worse.

I have to disagree with the play date/tell your kid to be friends with the bullied girl idea. It's incredibly naive to think that if they just hang out with each other they'll be friends. That's just now how it works, with kids or adults. So your kid and her friends don't like this girl, and they're handling it very poorly. The lesson here is to be decent and civil even to people we don't like. And if there is a racial component to why they don't like this girl, address that too - but this could be a red herring. In a bullying situation everything about the bullied kid is wrong, from loaded things like race (which, don't get me wrong, absolutely needs to be addressed) to innocuous ones like the color of her lunch bag. At the root, it's all about asserting social dominance.

The very likely outcome of forcing further interaction between your daughter and this girl is increased resentment of this girl or making her a captive target for more bullying. The mean girl dynamic is such that your kid would probably get pumped for information by her other friends, which information would then be used to further torment the girl who is being bullied. Honestly, this girl is a person - a very vulnerable person - with feelings. It would border on cruel to make her sit through some awkward play date to teach her bully a "lesson." She's been through enough already.

As far as the other parents approaching your kid, I agree that it seems like some weird combination of scapegoating and protesting too much on their part. I would intervene - to tell the parents directly that you will not tolerate them confronting your child, and to tell the school administration that you expect them to assist and back you up on this. Seriously, parents picking on another kid for any reason? Let alone because they're overcompensating for their own lax parenting? They should be ashamed. No wonder their kids are bullies.

Good on you for taking this seriously.
posted by AV at 7:51 PM on March 3, 2014 [29 favorites]

I'd strongly consider moving your daughter to a different school. This sounds kinda crazy.

That's assuming that she won't already be changing schools at the end of the year.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:52 PM on March 3, 2014

Sorry for the scapegoating it sounds like your daughter is getting. Really, really sorry. FWIW, I think you handled things well so far; not saying anything could have panned out worse in the long run. Unfortunately it got out of your hands.

I have a brother who was involved in a lot of crap at school at that age (some of his own doing, some not), and from having to watch that I'd say the one thing you can do from this point on is impress on your daughter that no matter how rough things are in the outside world, home is a refuge. Not a hiding place, but a safe one. You might impose consequences for actions, but home is safe and you've got her back no matter what.
posted by variella at 7:54 PM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

I was the target of that kind of stuff when I was a kidl, and I definitely considered it bullying. It's pretty naive to believe that the picture, once sent to other people, wouldn't get widely circulated. I agree that you should apologize to the Asian girl's parents, and that your daughter is now being bullied and scapegoated.

I don't see where you did anything wrong. It sounds like it's the other parents/adults in the picture who are being jerks here. In your shoes I would first talk to the teacher, then the principal, and then consider transferring schools. Honestly, if this was an ongoing issue and the teacher was completely unaware, it doesn't sound like the school has a good handle on how to handle bullying, and I'm not optimistic that things will improve for her without strong leadership from them.
posted by snickerdoodle at 7:55 PM on March 3, 2014 [5 favorites]

The "right thing to do" doesn't lose its value after you get what you want out of it. If you felt like it was the right thing to do at the time, then it was - it doesn't change because it's no longer serving your purposes.

In other words, if you're having doubts and wondering if it wouldn't have been best for all concerned if you had simply turned a blind eye - the answer is, obviously, no. As the good Dr. Stockmann says in Ibsen's play, "the strong must learn to be lonely."
posted by war wrath of wraith at 8:02 PM on March 3, 2014 [37 favorites]

This is such a tempest in a teapot. No one will remember any of this in a year if you don't make a federal case out of it. Just relax. Your kid acted like a jerk to someone and she's paying the consequences of it. Consider it a life lesson.
posted by empath at 8:03 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

First, just because the outcome is not as expected or even just not a good one or reasonable one does not mean you should handle this differently next time. I am sure there are several right ways to handle this. Yours is within those parameters.

Second, I think the most important lesson that your daughter should learn, you say was. Mocking, making fun of and mimicking people is not appropriate and downright mean. I think she also learned a lesson from this in that she now understands that you and your wife will do the right thing even to your family's own peril.

Third, I think the next lesson she needs to learn is that you will support her and stand up for her. She needs to know that and needs to see that in action at this point. She made a mistake, saw consequences, learned a lesson and now needs to see you tell these other folks to back the fuck down. You handled it appropriately and will continue to handle it directly with those appropriate and everyone else needs to look in the mirror and understand their role in this mess and how it continues to affect even more children.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:03 PM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

The "right thing to do" doesn't lose its value after you get what you want out of it. If you felt like it was the right thing to do at the time, then it was - it doesn't change because it's no longer serving your purposes.
Wow war wrath of wraith, that nailed it.
posted by variella at 8:04 PM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm concerned about this has been dragged in front of the entire class, with my daughter now the target for abuse
Be tough back at the school. Public shaming does not address bullying.

I haven't seen great research on what stops bullying, on an institutional level. Individually, kindness and empathy help a lot. I would do some 'acts of kindness' with your daughter, and work on promoting kindness and empathy. Good luck, this is rotten all around.
posted by theora55 at 8:05 PM on March 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

If you let your daughter get attacked so much now that she is traumatized, then she may turn into an extremely defensive and bitter person who can never admit or accept fault for anything. You need to find a way to end the bullying by these adults immediately, and if not, move her to another, better school ASAP.

Here is one thing you can tell her that may or may not help her, but it did help me when I was trapped in a family environment where I was the scapegoat: Do not take it personally that these people are scapegoating you. It says nothing about you. People who use scapegoats, ALWAYS need a scapegoat. If you exit the situation, then they will just find a new one. If they run out of enough people then they will start scapegoating people who are currently being favored. I knew that when I left my family environment that someone else would become the scapegoat with a quickness. That honor passed first to one of my siblings. When that sibling left, and the only child who remained was the golden child who could do no wrong and was treated as if he was the Dalai Lama, he became the scapegoat so quickly even I was shocked by it. It's arbitrary. These people just choose the most convenient person. Don't take it personally.
posted by cairdeas at 8:08 PM on March 3, 2014 [10 favorites]

Nthing the suggestion that your daughter really needs a brief, neutral script (practiced at home) to deliver to adults who approach her about this. I can only imagine how scary those moments must be, and how much she must dread them. Please give her some appropriate language with which she can stand up for herself and hopefully end these confrontations quickly.
posted by jessicapierce at 8:12 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

There's a lot of good stuff for your daughter to learn from here, beyond the one you've already helped her learn. Rather than look back to see what you might have done differently, accept that certain aspects of this incident were never in your control, and focus instead on helping teach additional valuable lessons from the extended fallout.

For example: you've already done damage control to prevent the pictures from being shared further, so now you can have a conversation about information security with her. Help her understand that everyone makes bad choices now and again, and most of them are quickly apologized for and forgotten, but when pictures are taken or letters are written or things are posted on the internet, they can take on a life of their own and be difficult (or fully impossible) to take back.

Another example: she knows her friend took the picture, but her friend is denying it, and (as far as your daughter knows) getting off scott-free. Explain plausible deniability to her, and how a lack of hard evidence (such as a picture of your friend making the same face) puts sufficient uncertainty in other people's minds to allow her friend to successfully claim she didn't do it, even though it is a lie. Tie that back into the lesson about information security as well. Also worth a mention as part of this that often kids who are a bad influence will goad you into doing something "with them", but really you're the only one putting yourself on the line (like you being the one who actually jumps the fence, or rides off on the stolen bike, or is in the picture.)

Another example: help her understand that, intentionally or not, she and her friends will make bad choices here and there, and you don't really learn what kind of person someone is until you see how they respond to their own bad choices. Your daughter responded by accepting responsibility and feeling remorseful, which is how a person should respond (even though it's really hard.) Your daughter's friends responded by lying through their teeth, which is how people often respond when they're afraid or ashamed. Your daughter's parents responded by supporting their own daughters and blaming her, which is not uncommon and is quite unfortunate. Now she knows how these friends respond in these situations, which is to throw her under the bus, and so they're not really friends, they're just acquaintances who are best replaced with people who have more integrity (or at least have parents who know how to help them learn to behave properly.)

Yet another: that adults confronting her as they have been on school property is completely inappropriate, that you're glad she shared it with you, and that you'll be taking it up with the school (and do so, with speed and vigor!) Showing her you support her against inappropriate adult behavior even though at core she triggered this all through a bad choice is really important.

Finally, you might explain that a person can't always contain the fallout from a bad decision, but if you're surrounded by good friends and a supportive family, you can weather the storm...and hopefully in the future she'll understand better how to help the people she loves weather their own storms, because everyone makes mistakes and if doing the right thing was easy, everybody would always do it.
posted by davejay at 8:32 PM on March 3, 2014 [39 favorites]

Just to be clear on that last part: doing the right thing is hard, especially when we've gone the wrong thing first. If nothing else, she should come away from this experience knowing that the kind of suffering she's going through right now is why most people are too weak or fearful to do the right thing, and even though it's really hard on her, you're proud of her for taking the right path on her journey; it's the difference between a bad person (which she isn't) and a good person who made a bad choice (which she is.)
posted by davejay at 8:38 PM on March 3, 2014 [13 favorites]

Could you clarify if the parents are confronting you or directly confronting your child? I'm not seeing in the post that people are confronting your child, only that there have been confrontations.

Because if the parents are confronting you, you need to refrain from sharing that with your child. If the parents are confronting your child, you need to make sure that stops.

And yes, you did the right thing even though it's not turned out well. Mocking someone for having epicanthic folds (I assume that was what she did?) is bullying, whether or not everyone involved is now claiming they had no idea she'd ever see the picture. If there's an ongoing pattern of harassment of the other girl and other incidents, it's impossible for me to believe that the photo wasn't part of this campaign against that child, whether or not she was specifically supposed to see it.
posted by winna at 8:53 PM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Okay, I really don't want to harp on this, but I feel like I'm the only person who actually read the question or something.

At this point you will need to take my word that I know my daughter and I fully believe that when the photo was taken she had no intention of it being seen by the asian girl; it was meant for the purposes of an immediate "laugh" between herself and her friends and I very much doubt that she had given *any* thought to the consequences beyond that particular moment.

Not part of ongoing harassment.

When the enormity of what she had done was brought home to her she was horrified at her actions and is desperate to correct the mistake.

Kid did not even seem to grok that this is potentially hurtful.

Our main concern - and indeed my daughter's once she realized the consequences - was that this girl should be protected from any exposure to this incident, of which she was entirely unaware until things blew up out of our control.

She does NOT want the Asian girl to see the picture.

My thought is that another kid mocked and actually bullied, in person, the Asian girl. Kids watch that and kind of pick up on one kid being a target, even if they're not mean kids themselves, and they can pick up the idea that it's okay to mock, or they will talk about other kids in class with their friends.

Yeah, maybe the parent OP is totally wrong and/or totally lying, but I see no reason to jump to that conclusion and not just accept the question as is.
posted by quincunx at 9:10 PM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

She's a good kid, but, boy, did she fuck up this time.

Yup. Take away her phone. This piece of privilege was used as a weapon. She needs to have it taken away until she learns what it isn't.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:20 PM on March 3, 2014 [6 favorites]

In a climate of extensive harassment an incident like the one described is part of normalizing the bullying and thus part of it. She may not have meant it to be seen by the Asian girl but that doesn't excuse the fact that it was cruel and racist. It doesn't mean that I'm not sorry that the OP's child is being bullied in turn. That is wrong, too.

It is terrible to learn that sometimes owning up when you have done something wrong has unpleasant consequences. Those unpleasant consequences at her age, though, should not include being bullied by adults who should know better. That needs to stop immediately if that is what is happening. I can't speak to taking her out of school - that seems to be an overreaction to me. But I haven't been in school since cell phones became a thing.
posted by winna at 9:35 PM on March 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

I would like to nth that just because your daughter is now being bullied, that forcing her to have a playdate with the originally bullied child won't magically fix this, and won't magically make them friends. This is not an after school special. I had no real friends all through grade school - not really sure why, other than maybe I was an odd child (although I didn't seem odd to me!) In any case, when I was 10, a classmate suddenly started to befriend me, and I was happy. It was a little odd - she only wanted to play together after school, never during school - but I was just happy to have a playmate. I found out near the end of the year that she didn't actually like me that much and the only reason she'd made the effort was that her Mom had made her, as "it was a Christian thing to do."

I would rather have just continued being a loner.

OP, I'm really sorry your daughter is going through this. I think you did the right thing, and hope this resolves quickly.
posted by RogueTech at 10:11 PM on March 3, 2014 [6 favorites]

I think that you did the right thing, and I hope that this blows over eventually.

Your daughter is feeling beaten down, and she needs to feel strong and powerful again. Look into getting her into an activity that will build her confidence back up. Something like archery or martial arts. She needs to feel good about herself. She is a good person who made a mistake. She's not a bad person. Make sure that she knows that.
posted by Ostara at 10:50 PM on March 3, 2014

You stood up for what is right. There was backlash. Now you can either teach your daughter to regret and wish that you had turned a blind eye, or you can teach her to be strong in the face of resistance.

If your daughter tries to do great things in the future, she will encounter resistance. She needs to learn how to persevere through resistance. Teaching her to instead regret and not rock the boat and stay silent is going to clip her wings.
posted by cheesecake at 12:20 AM on March 4, 2014 [5 favorites]

Has she read Blubber?

When the other parents hassle her, have her tell them " back off, you can discuss this with my parents".
posted by brujita at 12:35 AM on March 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

You did the right thing and I am proud of you through the internet. I say this as former bully, former victim, former childcare worker and current parent. Dont minimise what your daughter did - barring a couple of psychos it's always out of character for bullies, and if she did it with her friends, She was doing something in real life, too. Know this, accept it, But know also that even great kids get caught up in harassment campaigns - they are just kids and they are enabled by chicken shit administrations.

Said administration is now enabling the bullying of your kid by other adults, and you need confront them about it calmly but very seriously. School admins don't respond to emotion, but if you can scare them they will act. It is wildly inappropriate for any adult besides the school and you the parents to be talking to your kid about this.

Re the shaming in class, you gotta take your lumps on that one. It's not effective, and its not fair the other parties are being ignored, but it's a good lesson for your daughter about doing stupid shit, and how it takes courage and morals to deal with the consequences and not everyone has that, justice from within etc.

You sound like a great dad.
posted by smoke at 2:32 AM on March 4, 2014 [11 favorites]

These kids are 9 and 10. Most of this advice sounds like it's for kids who are 13 and 14. I'm gonna disagree with the crowd and say you overreacted to the picture. And anyway I don't think kids that young should have smart phones at all.
posted by spitbull at 3:55 AM on March 4, 2014 [8 favorites]

It is more important to teach your child how to hold her head up for what is right in the face of immense social pressure, than it is to teach your child to hide her values in order to conform for social ease.

That is, if you really believe that. And if you do, you haven't opened a Pandora's box, you have only removed a blindfold. Innocence is overrated. Standing up for others is not.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 6:24 AM on March 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

You did the right thing at the time. You for sure DON'T want that picture floating around.

I'd really want to know who "informed the school" because that was a shitty, shitty thing to do. Frankly, I'd want to avoid those other people all together because they are NOT nice people. (Duh.) Explain to your daughter that it's disappointing when people turn out to be turds, but this will not be the last time it happens in her life. Encourage her to make new friends, or to hang out with other people for awhile.

All of that aside, I think you need to go to school and to discuss with the administration where everyone needs to go from here. Explain that you don't want any of the teachers or staff to further discuss this with your daughter.

I love Woodvine's "My parents don't want me to talk about this anymore. I can give you Dad's number if you want to talk to him about it.". Roleplay it with your daughter. Teach her that it's okay to walk away from people who want to lecture her and that it's okay if she wants to stand up for herself.

Another thing that she needs to internalize is, "I made a mistake. I never intended to hurt anyone's feelings. I am a good person and I have learned from my mistake." She can even say it to anyone who says anything to her about it.

These situations suck. Hopefully it will die down soon. The only thing you can do is to continue on as best you can. If it gets too stupid, change schools.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:34 AM on March 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'd really want to know who "informed the school" because that was a shitty, shitty thing to do.

OK, that I totally disagree with. OP describes persistent, continuous bullying of this child. Notifying the school of another instance was completely appropriate.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:45 AM on March 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

[Don't turn this into a discussion please, folks.]
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (staff) at 6:56 AM on March 4, 2014

I'd really want to know who "informed the school" because that was a shitty, shitty thing to do.

Yeah, I think this is the part I'm confused about. Did another parent that you let know about the text tell the teacher or something? Why is the teacher confronting your daughter about the photo at all? How did it get to the school? Also, if it was taken and texted off school premises, how is it even the school's business?

Racism is shitty and awful, but in kids that young, it's not intentional or even identifiable as racism. They are little monsters, even the best ones, who will turn on anyone or anything different. I think having a conversation about this is definitely the right thing to do - talk about how making fun of /this/ difference in particular is not just mean but has far reaching overtones. But there's no need to make her wear a hairshirt.

The real problem - for you - is your daughter's trust. Unless you take steps, this is pretty much a perfect storm to convince her not to change her behavior, but to cover her tracks and never let the adults find out.

How easy would it be to change classes, if you can't change schools?
posted by corb at 7:40 AM on March 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

You did the right thing in talking to your kid, but never involve other parents. Parents are the worst, they live in a fantasy where their spawn is the embodiment of character and morals. Not all, but, like alot do. As you are now seeing.

I'd actually teach your daughter to just walk away from any other kids parents that start talking to her. If it's a teacher, I'd teach her to say "Please call my dad about this" then walk away. Literally just teach her to turn around and walk away from the person. This will make a visual to teh adults that they are making a child uncomfortable and if they try to chase her down, then hell tiem for switching schools and restraining orders unfortunately.
posted by WeekendJen at 10:10 AM on March 4, 2014

As noted in this thread, you didn't do anything wrong, and other adults taking time out of their day to trot out their own self-righteousness directly to your kid is crap, but as your question is basically "How would I have handled this differently?" well...

I obviously want my children to be the perfect little angels, who have my current, adult morals and philosophical convictions which I've grown over decades of experimenting, pushing boundaries, learning, failing, and sometimes, just sometimes, being a raging asshole and suffering the consequences, even if it's "just" inwardly cringing at remembered behavior, such as:

I went to early elementary school in the Midwest, and I have memories of me and my "friends" making our eyes slanted and reciting the old racist mantras which go along with the different slants. I honestly don't remember why I did it, other than I liked making people laugh. In fact, I didn't necessarily see what was so funny about it, though looking back on it now, the fact that I'm half-asian (and therefore the butt of the joke) was really what they found so funny about it. It honestly never even crossed my mind that: 1. It was hurtful and racist and 2. They were making fun of me.

I was a bit younger than your daughter in the above situation, about 6-7, but if I caught my daughter in this situation at 10 years old, I can't say that I would necessarily even punish her farther than ensuring the pictures were deleted on all devices and having a talk about how my actions (intentionally hurtful or not) can have impact on others, and name some situations which have occurred in my life. I would also talk to her about the fact that I don't approve of that type of humor because it is hurtful, but she is free to make her own decisions, and that if her goal is to make other people laugh, without taking into account how that may affect others and hurt them, including me, then she is in for a difficult time.

I also might take a close look at who she was hanging out with at the time, and more closely monitor their interactions for a while to see if they're feeding negative behaviors into each other.
posted by Debaser626 at 10:15 AM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Quick suggestion.

I don't know what kind of phone it was...did it have built in memory, or a removable flash card?

Either way, you may want to take it to a data recovery guy...just to make sure that the offending video was the ONLY offensive matter in the phone.

Good luck. Love your kid.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:05 PM on March 4, 2014

Anonymous's daughter has gotten more grief than Anonymous bargained for arising out of this incident. What benefit would arise from a fishing expedition to find more potential wrongdoing?
posted by grouse at 12:14 PM on March 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

Totally cosign the advice above to get her a neutral script for parents who wanna be dickbags about this.

Secondly, a decent lesson to come out of this might be that it's important to do the right thing, even (especially) if the consequences suck, but that in the long run, the consequences will fade. It's unlikely that she'll be bullied all year about this. She can get through it, and so can you. It's not the end of the world — she's taking her lumps, and it'll suck for her for a while, but that's part of growing up/ The outside world is only as fair as we make it, and she can keep doing the right thing, but not the easy thing, no by rolling through it.
posted by klangklangston at 6:31 PM on March 4, 2014

I have said for years that much of life is based on what you learn in the 5th grade. And 5th grade girls are the meanest in my opinion. They have all at once reached the point where they realize that their statements can be hurtful and it makes them feel powerful. Your daughter was on the giving end and now she finds herself on the receiving end. My children experienced both sides of this; one daughter in an eerily similar experience some 20 years ago. Your daughter is being scapegoated because she got caught and no one wants to associate with someone who got "caught" including these children's parents (who have not evolved past 5th grade).
My experience taught me to make sure that the adults were backed off; I contacted the school and advised them that my daughter had been properly reprimanded and there was no further need to do so on anyone else's part. Further, I called parent's who approached her and made comments and told them the same thing and that it would be helpful if they monitored their own children's behavior more closely. Then we changed schools at the end of the year. And most importantly, I talk to all four of my girls about how 5th grade girl behavior was not and is not the socially right or responsible thing to do...it still is a code amongst us when we are dealing with adverse situations.
Give your daughter a big hug and tell her you are proud of her for learning so much even though she did wrong. That too will go a long way. If she is as smart as she seems from your description, she will value that more than anything.
posted by OhSusannah at 10:10 AM on March 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

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