'My 11-year-old daughter was confident and happy. One term in Year 5 broke her.'

My daughter is 11. She wants to be an actress or a lawyer, depending on the day you ask her. She is confident, capable, and hopeful for the future. Her heroes are Emma Watson, Chloé Hayden, and Pink. She believes in equality and fairness and faces into the world expecting the same, showing dismay at any inequality she hears or sees. She is a strong advocate for her neurodivergent brother and loves reading. Did I mention she loves reading? It is her passion and her safe space.

This year, it only took one term in Year 5 to change all of this.

My daughter commenced this year as a confident and capable student. She was aspiring to a leadership role in the school and was regularly selected for academic opportunities. Her teacher took a lot of time to understand her and build on her strengths.

Watch: 1 in 4 school kids have been bullied. Story continues after video.

Video via Mamamia.

Early in term 2, she raised some concerns with her teacher about the overtly sexual language and innuendo being used in class and on the playground by the boys. Her teacher responded quickly with reassurance and actions, nothing further was required, and she felt confident in her ability to speak up and be heard.

In term 4, her teacher took leave and was replaced by a temporary appointment. This happens every week in schools around Australia and no further thought was given apart from some disappointment that her teacher was moving on.

The first significant change was noted when she opted not to apply for school captain, despite a beautifully written speech clearly saved in her iPad. Still, I didn’t press the matter – I assumed she had a plan and was not about to push her.


What then emerged was a series of ongoing targeted events. She was being called "Shrek", "Fat Giraffe" and "Book Reading B*tch" by a particular boy and his friends. This had been going on for some time. She was no longer confident to stand in front of her peers and ask to represent them. Instead, she tried to be smaller, less. Her school shoes were being drawn on, she was told this boy would burn her books, and that she was hated.

How did this happen so quickly? Easy apparently. There was no one watching. No one noticed. It has become the norm that innocent banter from children of this age can escalate to examples of toxicity rapidly. Teachers are busy, parents are unaware.

After emails to the substitute teacher were ignored, we were shocked to find my daughter included in the same class as her tormentor for 2023. How could this have happened? Surely it was a mistake? 

But the principal was unaware of anything going on. Every day, we were sending our child into the lion’s den. Trusting the system, trusting the communication channels, and telling her to be brave. This wasn’t happening online. This was happening in the classroom.

The level of abuse, harassment, and overt targeting was devastating to our family. She has been a consistently kind, caring, opinionated and confident girl. Ten weeks with a substitute, no action on issues raised and now a significant change in personality.

Now where are we? She does not want to leave her room and go to school. She is looking into her final year in primary school, sitting close to a child intent on hurting her. She is 11.

The author of this story is known to Mamamia but has chosen to remain anonymous for privacy reasons.

Feature Image: Getty.

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