It’s your worst nightmare – your child or a student that you know is being traumatised by tyrants who probably don’t even know how evil they are being. And in a moment’s notice your child is swept up in feelings of betrayal, pain and utter hopelessness. It’s real. It’s not going anywhere. It’s bullying.
“Growing up as a member of a visible minority in the suburbs of 1970s Quebec City, Joanne Liu admits now, was not much fun. She was the only Chinese-Canadian child in her elementary school and one of a few in high school, as the overwhelmingly francophone population around her seethed with nationalist passions. “People would beat me up after school, they would throw names at me,” said Dr. Liu, whose family ran a Chinese restaurant in the provincial capital. “Children are brutal … Being different when you’re a child is always a challenge.”
This was taken from a National Post online article that was posted just a few days ago. Dr. Liu’s story is tragic – and fortunately she was able to rise above the oppression and fulfill her dreams of being a doctor. But there are many children and teens that don’t overcome the horrible after-effects of bullying. I spoke to one youth pastor this week who told me that he has counselled teens that have considered suicide because the bullying has gotten so bad.
Some would think in 2014 “bullying” would have gone the way of the Spanish Flu or ‘The Cosby Show’ – but bullying is just as much an issue today as it ever has been before. It doesn’t matter how much psychotherapy is pursued or intervention we employ. Bullying isn’t going anywhere, because as long as we have insecurity and as long as we have kids we’re going to have bullies.
Bullying prevention starts in the home – like everything else related to a child’s development. Positive, edifying messages need to be the norm in our conversations with our kids – where we teach them from an early age how to talk respectfully to all people, regardless of what the child may think about someone. When we fail to continually teach our kids to love and respect our neighbours regardless of their religion, skin colour or income level, bullying is a very natural side-effect.
As a youth minister, I derive my life philosophy from the Bible – which I believe to be written by men who were inspired by God. It’s interesting as you look at the Bible for examples of bullying and/or intimidation, you find some intriguing results. One of them is found in Acts 4.
In the book of Acts, early church leaders were being heavily criticised by their cultural ‘leaders’ for not subscribing to cultural norms. So when the early church leaders were presenting a convincing argument for the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (Acts 3), the cultural leaders decided it was time for them to stop (Acts 4:1). Instead of asking them nicely, they resorted to bullying and intimidation (Acts 4:21). So, you had people going about activity that a group of people didn’t like, and instead of demonstrating tolerance, they employed bullying. Sounds an awful lot like today.
What’s intriguing to me though are the additional things that the Bible tells us about relating to this situtation, that probably give us a good idea of how we can better handle bullying in our circles today. Again, I’m sharing what the Bible says – so if you’re not a Bible person, I trust you’ll hear me out and take some time to think about what’s being said.
5 things Acts 4 teaches us about bullying:
1. Prayer is vital (Acts 4:24).
This is absolutely critical to life. Prayer is our life compass. It keeps us centered on the One who makes sense in a chaotic world. Prayer demonstates to ourselves and to God that we are incapable in and of ourselves to successfully make it through this life. Prayer is our tether to our Heavenly Father. When we stop praying, our spiritual communicator goes from four bars to “No Service”. When tough times come, we need to pray. When we’re faced with a situation that seems insurmountable, we pray. We don’t pray for God to make everything work, we pray for the strength to cling to Him regardless of what comes our way. After they had been bullied, and without a doubt during the bullying (and as we see in other places in Scripture), the early church leaders were unquestionably committed to prayer during the seasons of life.
Student application: develop a method for helping students make prayer a regular part of their day – not just when they’re being bullied. As they’re walking into the doors of their school, they could pray. When they’re walking through the hallways, they could pray. When they see people from a distance that they’re having conflict with, they can pray. It teaches them to be consistently communicative with God, not just when it’s time to eat.
2. Scripture is foundational (Acts 4:25).
In the midst of their prayer, they quote from Psalm 2, which helped them focus their thoughts on what God was doing, rather than how they were going to react to it. The Scripture is filled with truths that help us to understand who God is and what God may be doing. Although the Bible may not give a specific answer as to why a student is going through a specific bullying circumstance, it DOES provide enough truth to help students think and meditate on God’s purposes and ways. When we fill our minds through Scripture and we’re dwelling on Scripture in the midst of conflict and friction, it has a sobering effect on us. It helps us keep our thoughts centered on Him.
Student application: pick some simple verses from the Bible that focus on who God is. Isaiah 26:3-4 is a good example of this. Help your student to internalize these verses and to dwell on them when they’re facing fear or a possible threat.
3. Actively use community (Acts 4:29).
2000 years ago there was no social network for the church leaders to turn to – they were it. Eventually the church became a help to troubled believers, but in the first few years there was nothing but the Lord. Now that’s a good enough resource in and of Himself, but the point is that the disciples were turning to someone for help. In our society, we first need to turn to the Lord, but then we we have to talk to the people that God has put around us to help – a friend, a parent, a pastor, a teacher. Silence is not an option. Someone has to be told and you have to tell that someone until action has been taken. Don’t believe the myth that “ratting” on someone is just going to make it worse or that the bullying will just go away. Maybe it won’t. Don’t try to be a hero – talk over your problem with the Lord and then go get help.
Student application: don’t assume your student knows where to turn to when things get rough. Talk them through the resources that are around them and where they should go when they’re feeling afraid or in need of help.
4. Don’t give up (Acts 4:29).
The early church leaders were not using their bullying episode to crawl into a hole, they wanted to keep on being who they were without fear and intimidation. They wanted to not just keep on, they wanted to keep on with confidence. Believe it or not, this episode of your life can take you in one of two directions: it can either belittle you or it can build you. That choice is yours. Throwing in the towel is handing the bullies victory. You’re giving them what they want: superiority to make up for their insecurities. Don’t let them have that power over you. You’re far too precious to God to allow someone to make you feel like dirt.
Student application: help your kids to think truthfully about the problem that they’re facing: the school is not full of bullies…most kids are actually fine to be around…this season of your life won’t last forever. Thinking on truth changes attitudes and brings hope.
5. Stick together (Acts 4:31, 32).
The cultural leaders wanted the church leader’s spirits to be crushed. The exact opposite occured. They were invigorated and they were unified. Because of what happened they were “of one heart and soul”. Wow. There are students in your school that have been through what you have been through and also think like you do when it comes to bullying. These are the students that you should stick to – like-minded people who will be able to help and encourage. Stop hanging out with the people that always are tearing down and go find some friends that are mature. Bullying is a sign of foolishness, insecurity and immaturity. Love and mutual respect is a sign of wisdom, security and personal growth. That’s what you should be striving to be an that’s who you should be around.
Student application: Don’t wait for something miraculous to happen before you step in and intervene in your child’s friend situation. If they’re clearly with the wrong crowd they may need to be directed elsewhere. Regularly talk to your kids about their friends and listen for signs of destructive behaviour.
So – are you facing a bullying struggle? Which of the above items mentioned means the most to you? Which one are you going to start doing right now?