Confronting Bullying at School with Courage and Integrity
The bullying trend is on the rise among America’s top social problems. Although stopbullying.gov reports that 28% of children have been bullied, I believe 100% of children have been bullied, will be bullied, or have witnessed bullying at school. If this is true, each one of us has a role in stopping this trend. Although there are many types of bullying, I will be focusing on the two types: self-esteem/self-worth bullying and ringleader bullying.
Common encounters children have is with other students who try to tear others down with words. If your child experiences this, ask them, “tell me about their home life.” If your child starts listing the multiple hardships in the life of the offender, it may become clear that this student was bullying others for two reasons: first, to build walls and keep those around them out; second, many of these children do not know how to appropriately bring about the attention they are seeking from their peers.
As a Christian parent, I believe that these bullies need prayer and need to be cared for. We need to teach our children how to respond in a way that allows them to stand up for themselves without tearing the other person down. In order to guide our children in this fashion, I recommend role-playing. You can do this at dinner time or in the car. Create some scenarios and help your child come up with responses to different situations.
For example, have your child practice responding to bullies with, “Nice try, I am a son/daughter of the King…but if you ever want to be friends, let me know. I am sure there are many layers to you.” Not only will it help your child better know how to respond with integrity, but it may open a door for a new friendship or an opportunity to plant a seed for Jesus.
The purpose of ringleader bullying is to elevate oneself and become “The King of the Hill”. These bullies can come from good homes and often are popular among peers. In his book No More Jellyfish, Chickens or Wimps, Paul Coughlin makes some unique suggestions based on scriptural support. One of the points that Coughlin makes is about the importance of “turning the other cheek.”
Many Christians believe that this is the only way to respond to conflict, including bullying. Coughlin suggests that there is another possible view. Coughlin writes that there is a difference between stopping an injustice (and bullying at school is an injustice) and retribution. Responding to a bully actively instead of passively is not an act of revenge, but an act of justice (p. 164).
Coughlin also talks about the apostle Paul’s admonishment to the Romans, “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). Coughlin goes on to state that when a child is being bullied, the peace has already been broken by the bully. By standing up to the bully (an action born out of a desire for justice rather than retribution), a child has the opportunity to restore peace (p. 106).
If your child is pushed down by a ringleader bully, consider encouraging him to stand up for himself humbly and with authority, making a stand for his rights as an image-bearer of God to not be abused. This is not to promote violence, but to respond appropriately in the situation. As Christians, we must stand up for our rights and the rights of others around us as image-bearers of God, with courage and authority.
Sometimes the answer might look countercultural to what most Christians, including myself, would likely consider normal. This is why it is extremely important to approach these situations with prayer and careful consideration, while also seeking counsel from resources, such as the book I referred to above.
If you or your family are struggling with bullying at school, please take the time to pray and seek guidance. This problem does not have a one-answer-fits-all solution. Thankfully, there are many different resources available for victims of bullying.
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