Care and Feeding

Telltale

My daughter says her best friend is being bullied. Is it my responsibility to tell her mother?

A girl with her head down, crying, next to a backpack.
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Dear Care and Feeding,

My third grader informed me that a child in her class was acting like a classic bully—calling people names, excluding specific children from games, threatening anyone who played with (or even looked at!) the excluded child, demanding loyalty from kids. The behavior was directed at a series of kids over the course of a few months, and eventually it was directed at one of my kid’s best friends.

My daughter often occupies the high moral ground, and I wasn’t totally sure whether to believe her take on events, so I reached out to her friend’s mom to see if she had been complaining about any general misbehavior. I didn’t tell her that her daughter was the target because I don’t know her that well, and because I wasn’t sure if my daughter was completely reliable. Her kid totally denied that anything was going on.

The thing is, I then checked with the teacher, who confirmed my daughter’s version of events, and she also told me that my daughter’s friend confirmed this version to her.

I have two questions: First, shouldn’t the school be letting this kid’s mom know what is going on? Second, do I have a responsibility here? I feel uncomfortable telling someone that I know more about what’s going on with her kid than she does.

—Whom Do I Tell?

Dear WDIT,

I think in general you are a) overthinking this and b) hoping to manage business that you might not be able to manage, and the solution for both is simple: Tell your friend that the school confirms that her daughter is the target of some bullying—just as you would tell someone if they had something in their teeth—and then keep it moving.

You say that you’re reluctant to make it seem like you know more about this person’s child than she does, and I think it’s pretty easy to avoid that if you don’t believe that you know more—because you don’t. You have simply happened upon one piece of information that this mother does not have, and so in the spirit of neighborliness, you will share that with this mother.
You don’t know the best way for the mother to deal with this, and you don’t know the best way for the kid to deal with it. You don’t know what else is going on in the kid’s life, history, or past that would make it better or worse.

I might also suggest that you don’t fully know the best way for the school to deal with this. I can certainly see why it would make sense for the school to tell the parent that such a thing is going on, but I don’t think it’s some horrific dereliction if it doesn’t come up right away. The fact that the kid didn’t tell her mother may mean that it’s so bad that she’s terrified to talk about it. It may also mean, however, that this whole situation is a bigger deal for you than it is for her. You simply don’t know, which is convenient because you’re not in charge of knowing here. All you can do in this situation is help. Pass on what you know, and let everyone else—the other parent, the school, and the kid herself—do their jobs.

—Carvell