Vicious circle of social anxiety

11th March 2005 at 00:00
I have always got on reasonably well with Vikki. She will talk to me, show me her work and tell me how she is feeling now she is trying to return to school full-time. No problems re-integrating really. Kids are very accommodating. I thought things were going well.

So when Vikki told me she was not going to hit Katie I believed her. She looked me straight in the eye and gave me her word. It was, after all, a trivial argument between 14-year-olds about a boy. I thought I had sorted it out.

Of course I hadn't. Quite soon there was a spat in the corridor and Katie was in tears. It was Vikki's fault, an unprovoked attack from behind, her adolescent emotions obviously stronger than any obligation to keep her word.

Vikki is a strange girl. She has missed almost two years of education through her self-proclaimed school phobia. Very deep and very quiet, she claimed to be constantly bullied, though we could find no evidence at all.

She would come to school, cry and then run away.

It is a difficult thing to untangle. So many kids claim to be bullied. What they are referring to is sometimes their own inability to read other people's behaviour or to build relationships. It becomes an umbrella term for a general anxiety about being in school.

In Vikki's case you can add a hint of paranoia, a belief that the girls whispering at the other side of the classroom are talking about you.

Bullying is a convenient name. It gets you noticed. Vikki's social anxiety was at the root of her difficulties, not bullying. That and her desire to control, to force others to dance to her tune.

Her mother did not make her attend school but she made her dependent. She let her stay at home, wrapping everything up in a package called bullying.

Vikki found that she could control her world. Doctors, counsellors, family group conferences. Meetings with little Vikki in the middle. And perhaps in doing so she diverted attention and resources away from children who were really the victims of bullies. Because Vikki was never such a victim.

Just because someone says they are being bullied does not mean they are.

But schools are vulnerable to such accusations, particularly from people who do not work in them. Still, Vikki is back in school. Perhaps all the counselling has worked, Vikki is now just another of the girls in Year 10.

Except that now someone new is frightened to come to school.

Ian Roe is a secondary school teacher from north Wales

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