A couple of days ago I saw a headline “44% of Child Suicides in the U.K. are the Result of Bullying” and frankly I was surprised at the low statistic. I thought it would be much higher. In the United States 160 000 school age kids stay home from school every day to avoid bullying. How has this happened? Most bullying happens in public view – most bystanders do not intervene. Many people ask me about bullying – how their kids can avoid it and how they can prevent their kids from becoming bullies. The fact it is a post I have put off writing. I thought I could write a quick response – I can’t. There is no quick response or solution.
Firstly lets define bullying: Bullying is a form of abuse. It comprises repeated acts over time that involves a real or perceived imbalance of power with the more powerful individual or group abusing those who are less powerful. The power imbalance may be social power and/or physical power. The victim of bullying is sometimes referred to as a target. (Wikipedia)
When I was a kid bullying involved the bigger kids putting the smaller kids in the garbage can and pelting them with whatever they could find. Parents and teacher’s would say “Don’t tell tales” or “Suck it up.” Well gone are those days… Bullying has become extremely personal and an open act of personal persecution. It is not limited to kids either… Teachers bully students, students bully teachers, co-workers bully co-workers… A quick read of Frank Peretti’s book will put any apathetic thoughts about bullying to rest:
This is his personal journey through school, and the relentless attacks that he suffered. I read this book a couple of years ago and it was a real wake-up call. While I have a zero-tolerance for bullying this book made me get into gear and have some sort of practical approach to bullying in our family. Bullies are no longer the class idiot, head and shoulders taller than the rest of the gang… they are clever, manipulative and conniving and very good at avoiding being observed by people that might take action. I new I needed to think about how to deal with the problem before it arose… Bullying is debilitating. We have all been victims of it at one stage or another, we have friends and children that are suffering and we need to address it in our kids from a very early age.
Bullying is not some sort of “right of passage” that your children have to pass through in order to become adults. Bullying is intolerable and as such should not be tolerated at any age. Enduring a bully does not in fact strengthen your child it weakens them and makes them feel more and more despondent and hopeless. We want our kids to grow up to grow up as “coping” adults then enduring a whole lot of bullying on the way is not going to enable your child to be the responsible adult you want them to be.
I often think that parents, especially Christian parents, are letting their children down when they teach their children to turn the other cheek. They are setting their children up to fail. The flimsy response: “Just ignore them” is nothing short of useless. So I went looking to see what the Bible really has to say about bullying and what a good response would be.
Lets have a look at the three main aspects of bullying and what role you as the parent are playing:
- Ensure your children are not bullying:
- Make sure your children are not passive bullies:
- Make sure your that your children are not bullied:
- Communicate: with your child continuously about the goings on in their lives, you can’t watch them every second of every day, you cannot speak for them, you can not protect them from every incident – you have to give them the tools to cope in the world. And you have to recognize when your child is not them self. The kids that becomes evasive is the kid that is in trouble. Kids can be so very subtle – they don’t all gush their hearts out and they don’t all share every moment of everyday.
- Listen: Most children are unlikely to come forward and tell you that a class-mate is consistently attacking them verbally or physically. There is a shamefulness associated with bullying that makes kids less likely to talk about it. The first time there is an incident they may talk about it but as the incidents happen repeatedly they tend to bottle it up.
- Hope: Often they are really hoping for help, and that is the problem with the on-going-ness of bullying: Proverbs 13:12 (New International Version) Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. Most of us need some intervention to get out of a bullying situation. Often the first person they ask will look the other way – and I know why, they probably don’t want to deal with the bullies parents. Often, no matter how sweet they appear a bullies parents are hard to address – the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree after all. Your child needs to know that they they are important enough to seek help until they get it.
- Body Language: Teach your child to have an attitude of confidence but not arrogance. And you can teach your child to walk purposefully across a playground. Make a game of it, make it fun. The child that tries to sneak across to “the safety of the other side” is far more likely to be noticed as a weaker playmate and to become the victim.
- Words: Teach your child to be dismissive but not disdainful. A firm: “You may not talk to me like that” is often quite enough. Don’t encourage your child to share their feelings with the bully: “Your behavior really hurts my feelings” is really not going to elicit a whole lot of sympathy from a bully – it will in fact give them more “ammunition.”
- They are not alone: Ask your child if they are the only victim. Often times a bully is performing the same type of behavior on a number of kids… if they can see that they are not the only victim it can be a small step in the direction of not taking the behavior personally.
- It is not your child’s job to understand the bully, yes bullies usually have their own personal pile of troubles, but your child is unlikely to be the one to change the bullies behavior. Your child needs to protect and heal themselves first. Your child needs to see the bullies behavior for what it is and change their response to the attacker. Often times a quick brainstorm with your kid: “What could you have done…” and go mad think up a riot of responses will help your child to see the bully and in a different and less threatening light. If in their mind they are trickling jelly down their attackers shirt as he approaches, I promise you they will be able to approach their attacker with more confidence.
For whatever reason, sometimes kids can lose the plot and behave really anti-socially. Even mine! Nip it in the bud and make sure that they know that you will not accept that. Don’t tolerate grabbing and taking toys from siblings, don’t tolerate name-calling and bullying in your home. I firmly believe it is the best place to learn how to behave appropriately. It is not enough to say to your kids: “Do not hit, bash, hurt…” because a lot of bully like behavior is verbal and mental abuse… and everyone knows that words hurt just as much, if not more than, sticks and stones.
Very often we will observe someone being intimidated and do nothing… or worse join the crowd and believe me even the sweetest kid will be swung by peer pressure. Often times an observing child will join the “gang” so as not to become the next victim of the bully. Don’t be passive, by being passive you are sending a very clear message that the bullies behavior is acceptable and that it is okay for a child to be repeatedly abused. Paul says in: 1 Thessalonians 5:14 (New International Version) And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. In fact Jesus gives a classic example when he says in: John 12:7 (New International Version) “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. ” It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.
Teach your child to empathize. Play “What if…?” games, that get them thinking what would it be like in other folks shoes. If they cannot intervene they should be able to call an adult that can. In a world where people are turning away from folk in trouble, for fear of litigation and this attitude is creeping into every facet of life, teach your kids to stand up for those in need. A book like The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes is a very good place to start.
It is the story of Maddie as she observes day by day the teasing and bullying of Wanda, a girl in her class that says she has a 100 dresses at home – even though she wears the same blue faded dress to school everyday. Maddie’s popular friend, Peggy, bullies Wanda daily and stirs the class up to laugh at her… Maddie knows it is wrong but says nothing – she doesn’t want to ruin a friendship. Eventually Wanda moves away and Maddie is left with no way to say she is sorry and regretting that she didn’t step in and say something sooner.
My kids fall into two camps: those that look at bullies in a sort of bemused way – “Like, what is this kid doing?” and those that just deck the assailant with absolutely no thought process involved… Not surprisingly it is the more bemused kid that is more likely to be bullied. Your kids really need to know that bullying is not acceptable and while they don’t have to retaliate, turning the other cheek is not the correct response either. You can not protect your children from bullies – they are out there and your children will be better off learning how to cope with them. Our kids are growing up in a world surrounded by a number of bully-type folks and they need the life-skills to cope with it.
Se7en steps you can take to encourage your kids:
And the “se7en + 1th” thing:
In closing I found an excellent example of bullying and a great response in John 18:19-23 :(New International Version)
19 Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching.
20″I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. 21Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.”
22When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby struck him in the face. “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” he demanded.
23″If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?”
When Jesus was publicly bullied he did not turn the other cheek. He did not cry “An eye for an eye” and strike the fellow back. He provided a model for us: He defended himself without retaliating, he asked the High Priest what he was thinking and he required a response. His response involved honor and courage – two things I would like to teach my children. His response required a strength of character that I would like to impart to my children, so that they may have an inner resolve that holds firm when they encounter the ravages of bullying.