Let’s see. When our children are born, they are blank slates that we have the opportunity to write on. We dream they’ll grow up to serve God one day by becoming whatever it is He wants them to be…doctors, pastors, pastors’ wives, teachers, or veterinarians. They will no doubt make us proud when they grow up. They’ll get straight A’s in school and they’ll thrive socially as well as academically. They’ll be part of the “in crowd.” They’ll be popular. After all, they are the smartest and best-looking students in the school. What have we to fear?
Well, look at your child in light of these statistics and see if you don’t have a very different lump in your throat the next time they board the school bus. The school environment that your child is in can make your child five times more likely they’ll commit suicide. It has nothing to do with grades, homework, workload, and the myriad of other things involved with academia. No, it’s the “extra-curricula” experiences that can cause despair and hopelessness in today’s students and drive them to suicide. As you can tell from the title, I’m talking about bullying.
First, let me warn you that children very rarely will open up to their parents regarding being bullied. You may be lulled into a false sense of security believing that “no news is good news,” but be warned. About 65% of bullying victims don’t report the bullying…not to teachers…not to friends…not to parents. So your child comes home with a black eye because they “fell off the swing,” well, keep in mind that even with a physical injury, the bullying was not reported in 40% of the cases…even with physical harm!!!
But surely my child will be protected at school if this is going on. Well, studies show that if bullying is going on in the school, adult intervention (teachers, etc) only happened a whopping 4% of the time. Your child’s peers were almost three times as likely to come to the aid of your child at 11%. But, a witnessed event of bullying went without any intervening at all on your child’s behalf 85% of the time!!! Apathy!!! Is it any wonder that a good number of students desire to change schools for the sole reason of believing another school would be safer for them.
And what if your child doesn’t feel safe at school? How are you going to know? Do they want to stay home sometimes for a wide range of vague symptoms? Are they sometimes perfectly healthy on the weekends, but come Monday morning they have an “illness.” A staggering statistic from the mid-1990’s showed that approximately 160,000 students stay home from school because of fear of being bullied. By the way, that’s 160,000 students EACH DAY! A decade later, that number may be more. I would suspect that truancy is connected with this when parents insist their child go to school, but the child is too afraid to show up.
If your child is forced to be subjected to this torture on a daily basis, aside from their risk for suicide rising five fold, do you know that they are prime to commit worse atrocities? Since 1990 there have been about 60 school shootings. It’s not surprising anymore that 85% of the school shooters were victims taking out revenge on their bullies. Of course Columbine High School is the “poster” for this problem. But the way, studies show that about 100,000 victims have brought guns to school at some point in their school years. Of course, not all children are bullied daily. The average is that one out of three children is bullied at least once a month.
So to your knowledge (or lack there of) your child is not being bullied and is not on the verge of suicide or homicide. Maybe they won’t resort to either…but don’t take solace in that. The reason I say that is because there is yet another risk associated with bullying. If they don’t kill themselves, kill others, or rack up a huge truancy rap sheet, your bullied child is 10% more likely to drop out of school. That’s right, 1 in 10 dropouts did so because of bullying and not because of academics. Why is that? Think about it. Fear of being bullied occupies the mind that should otherwise be open to learning.
Still, I sense you’re rationalizing. You’re saying, Columbine was a high school, my child’s in elementary school. Oh, that’s good. Maybe they are part of the 10% that is NOT experiencing bullying. I’m not kidding! According to the American Psychological Association, 90% of fourth through eight graders report having been bullied. It starts that early. Interestingly, 1 out of 4 kids is bullied while 1 out of 5 kids admit to being bullies. There’s an overlap, which means your child may not only be a victim…but a bully also…hmmm. Oh, and if your child is a bully, start saving money to post bail. By age 24, 60% of known bullies have a criminal conviction.
Now, because it starts with young children in elementary school, and peaks in the secondary school years, an estimated 282,000 students in these secondary schools are attacked (physically/verbally/emotionally) each month. So, if you’ve read this and began taking some of the sobering facts to heart, you may now be among the 32% of parents who fear for their child’s safety at school.
My original intent was to study and write about the psychopathology of bullies. Psychopathology is a fancy word for “why they do what they do.” Then as I began to research, it became clear to me that the reason for bullying is not as important as how to handle it. No elementary school child, or high school student for that matter, is going to be able to diffuse the bully with pop-psychology out in the schoolyard at the time they’re getting their lunch money stolen.
There are two big “no-no’s” when it comes to bullying. One big no-no has to do with a victim’s response to the bully immediately. The other big no-no has to do with the witnesses of the bullying (the 85% that don’t intervene). Jesus gave a great example of what He expects out of us in each of the two situations…shall we learn…???
First, we examine what not to do when being bullied. Bullies have a motivation for picking on other students. They get a charge out of seeing hurt and frustration in someone else at the bully’s own doing. That hurt and frustration and control over another person’s emotions is what keeps them going and why they keep perpetrating these weak acts. The trick is to not be passive. Don’t just “take it.” Don’t, for a moment, think I’m advocating being mean and unkind to the bully…that’s not justified in any case. But look at one case in particular in the Gospel of John.
In John 18:19-23 Jesus is being asked by the high priest about His doctrines and the things He was teaching. At this point, there was a civil question and answer period going on. Oh, the motive behind the questioning was not proper, but the mode of the conversation was at least civil, that is, until verse 22 comes into play: “And when he had thus spoken, one of the officers which stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, Answerest thou the high priest so?” Basically this morally upright man didn’t think it was proper for Jesus to respond to the high priest the way He did, so he took it upon Himself to hit Jesus. Jesus didn’t strike back, but simply, in a matter-of-fact way, said, “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me?” In other words, I’ve done nothing wrong in my dealings with you or the high priest, so why treat me this way?
A bully, when confronted with this dialogue, will be out of sorts and won’t really know how to handle it, nor will they know how to respond. Jesus was matter-of-fact and we should be also with bullies. It takes away their motivation for picking on your child. Teach them this instead of Tai Kwon Do. Also, look at Proverbs 25:21-22 which tells us to be loving toward our enemies (bullies) and treat them well because that will be as uncomfortable to them as heaping coals of fire upon their head, and, that verse also promises that God will reward us.
What am I saying? Show the bully you don’t care. Show them you are not affected by their infantile behaviors. Matthew 5:41 talks about a custom back in the Roman days when a soldier could see an Israelite and demand they carry the soldier’s belongings for one mile. Jesus said, of this ancient bullying tactic, “go with him twain.” The law stated the Roman soldier could not have you carry his things for more than a mile. So, after the mile is over, show it didn’t bother you by going on for another mile. That means the next time a senior demands you carry his books to class, offer to carry them home for him also. Oh, you may actually have to do that a few times, but after a while, the bully will get tired of your willingness, and give up on you…or…you may make a friend in the process. The Apostle Paul was a bully to Christians until he met a Person willing to make a friend out of him one day on the road to Damascus.
The other thing, besides knowing how to confront a bully and diffuse the situation over time, is the topic of apathy and not intervening when necessary. Especially since many people who don’t get involved are the same people being victimized other times. These people have the highest level of empathy toward another victim, yet they don’t get involved. Perhaps they fear future assaults at the hands of the bullies. Maybe these “innocent” bystanders fear immediate ridicule from the bullies. Who knows?
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus spends little time and gives little details about the attackers of the man that was robbed and beaten. Jesus doesn’t even spend much time giving details about the victim himself. What He does stress are the scores of people who do nothing, represented by two groups: the priests (the religious group in direct ministry), and the Levites (the laity that assisted the priests in many facets of their ministry). In the schoolyard, the priests or religious folks would be the teachers and staffs of the school. They are the full-timers with a direct call on their lives to be in that position of authority at the school. It’s expected that one of their duties be to protect students all the time. The Levite in the schoolyard would be the “laity.” Students, parents, and others who are around these teachers and administrators have the responsibility of assisting those in authority in helping out the victims of bullying. However, like the priest who walked by the victimized Jew, and much the way the Levite did the same thing, so to do our schoolyard population play the role of priest and Levite and look the other way. Of course, to end the parable, it was a Samaritan (an unlikely hero) who came and intervened on the victims behalf sacrificing time, energy, money, and all the while facing possible ridicule or retaliation from the thieves who originally did this to the Jew…it’s all there in Luke 10:25-37.
I remember an iconic stretch of news footage that has been forever etched into my brain. I did a little research to get the names right, but this news footage shows the Good Samaritan story in the modern day so well. In 1992, after Rodney King’s white police officers were acquitted of brutality and were all found not guilty, the L.A. riots ensued. The blacks in the city revolted and took vengeance for the injustice they experienced and began doing horrible things. On television, was the live video feed of a man being pulled from his truck and beaten right there on the street. His name was Reginald Denny. By the time a preacher who saw this unfold got to the corner, Reginald Denny had left and the crowd had dispersed. Then, the preacher noticed another similar attack on another driver. That truck driver’s name was Fidel Lopez. He was robbed and beaten by Damian Williams, the same man who had victimized Reginald Denny (more well known) a short time earlier.
With Damian Williams still present, the preacher who had been watching television put the Good Samaritan story into real life application. This preacher, Pastor Benny Newton, was a black man and ran an inner-city ministry for troubled black youth. As Damian Williams and three other black men were in the middle of victimizing and brutally beating Mr. Lopez, Pastor Newton threw himself on the victim and told Damian Williams, “Kill him and you have to kill me too!” He waved his Bible in the air (that’s the footage etched in my mind) and waited for help to arrive. After a while of waiting, and no help arriving, Pastor Newton took Fidel Lopez to the hospital himself. Pastor Newton died of Leukemia a year after the riots and left behind a wife and seven children. Think about that, he risked his life and the rather large family he had, to do the right thing by standing up for someone who was being bullied. Mr. Lopez gave the eulogy at Pastor Newton’s funeral and in the shortest time possible (about a year) became the closest of friends any two people could have become.
It’s like this. If you’ve been a victim of bullying, or your child is a victim of bullying, make sure it ends right there. Don’t ease the hurt of being a victim by turning around and victimizing someone else. That will lead to many things, none of which are good things. Be assertive with your bullies. Do what they’re forcing you to do willingly and offer to do more for them after (within reason) which is the Matthew 5:41 principle. It’s a bit of a strange thing, but you may actually gain their respect, and who knows, may even find a friend over whom you can have a godly influence. Lastly, the parable of the Good Samaritan shows us that there truly are no “innocent” bystanders. Get involved, but use wisdom and discernment, and use the right channels and resources to do so. The parable shows us that Jesus expects not only those in authority to get involved, but also the rest of us. Bullying is causing suicides, homicides, and hurting the insides of parents and kids alike. Start with a self-examination of what you’ve experienced and what you’ve done and what needs to change in your dealings with others…before it’s too late for you or someone else.