December 16, 2014 by cbbeard
“I don’t know why they spend all that time on an anti-bullying program. It’s not like it’s really going to stop the bullying.”
This was the feedback my oldest daughter gave in regards to the anti-bullying programming they were participating in at her middle school. It’s not the first program of this nature that she has been a part of, and her real-world experience has shown her that in spite of our best efforts, the bullying will continue on as an unpleasant, yet normal, part of growing up.
I despise bullying. There were moments in my childhood when the thought of going to a particular class or activity at school would cause massive anxiety for me because there was a chance I would get picked on that day; sometimes I even had concern for my own physical safety. On the flip-side, some of my biggest childhood regrets stem from me joining in on bully-like activities. I am overwhelmed with a mixture of sadness and anger whenever my own kids experience one of the many forms of bullying. But I think my daughter is onto something. The reality is, as long as we live in a broken world full of hurt and sin, people are going to lash out and tear others down. The reality is, as long as we are a part of society, we are in danger of ridicule and harm. And the reality is, bullying isn’t a problem that ends when we throw our High School graduation caps into the air.
So…if we can’t end bullying, what can we do? Certainly there are steps we can and should take to protect our children, and the value of anti-bullying programs is found in showing kids how to communicate with those that can protect them. But I think there are four things that we can do to prepare our children for the reality of bullying both now and in the future:
1. Help them see the truth.
It seems to me that all bullying boils down one lie: “You are lesser than.” Maybe it’s an attack on appearance or intellect or skill, or maybe it’s simply “I’m bigger than you, so you are less than me.” Regardless, bullying is hurtful because it causes us to feel inferior to others or under their power or control. Therefore, one of the best ways to prepare our children is to constantly remind them of the value they have in Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians that we were bought with a price, and that price is the sacrifice of Jesus. Paul also wrote in Philippians that Jesus didn’t consider equality with God something to be held onto, but he gave that up so that he could show us the extent of God’s love by dying on the cross for us. We cannot let the familiarity of this truth pass us by! When we consider the extent of God’s love, we can see our own value in that love’s reflection. And if we are confident in the value God has, no human being will be able to convince us otherwise.
Notice that I didn’t say anything about “self-esteem.” That’s because self-esteem is based on our view of self, but our true value should come from our view of God, and his view of us.
2. Help them see beyond the surface.
I am often guilty of road shenanigans. Sometimes those shenanigans border on road rage, but mostly they are shenanigans. For example…you know how annoying it is to have someone drive right up to your back bumper and stay there until you speed up or until they can pass? Well when that happened to me, I used to like to slow down in the no passing zones, and then speed up in the passing zones so they couldn’t pass (I know, I’m a jerk). But then something happened that changed the way I looked at those situations. A few years back I was sitting in church listening to my dad preach and he got a phone call. His mother, my Grandma Beard, was in the hospital and she had suffered a stroke. They weren’t sure if she was going to make it. As soon as we could, our family got into my parent’s SUV and we headed to the hospital which was over an hour away. My dad was driving fast and furious, and several times he drove right up to the back bumper of the person in front, staying there until he could pass them. It made me wonder…how many other people who had tailgated me weren’t just jerk drivers, but had something similar going on in their lives?
When it comes to bullies, we must teach our children to ask “why?” Why might this bully be acting like this? What might their home situation be like? What struggles in their life is causing them to lash out? What pain is the bully suffering on the inside that is making them act out on the outside? Because when we help our children see past the surface, we can then…
3. Help them see the real victim.
Perhaps my biggest beef with anti-bullying program is that it mis-identifies the real victim. Yes, my kids might be hurt by a bully’s actions, but I don’t believe they are victims. I can’t believe they are victims if I claim to believe in the truth of Scripture. I believe in the truth of Romans 8:31-39:
31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
If our kids are in Christ, then they are more than conquerors no matter what hardship or persecution they may face. The real victims are the bullies, because deep down inside beyond the hard surface and the façade of confidence is a hole that is temporarily filled by lashing out at others to ease pain and attempt to find peace. And when our kids see who the real victim is, we can…
4. Help them see the solution.
As mentioned before, bullying is simply a symptom of this broken and sinful world. The solution to brokenness and sin is not programming or retaliation…the solution to brokenness and sin is Christ and Christ alone. Therefore, we need to help our kids see the bullies they encounter not as enemies to be snuffed out, but as people who desperately need the peace that only Jesus can bring. We must teach our children that it isn’t hate or fear, but love that covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8), including the sins of bullying. We must teach our children what Jesus taught: that we are to love our enemies and pray for those who are mean to us (Matthew 5:43-44). When we teach them these things, we teach them to be more like Christ and to see their own encounters with bullies not as an attack, but as an opportunity to show the love of Christ to someone who needs it.
We won’t ever be able to stop bullying on this side of eternity. However, if we help our children see these four things, we will be dealing with the bullying problem the way Christ intended, with love, mercy, and grace.
What do you think? Do you think the best way to deal with bullying is stopping the problem, or preparing for it? What other things can we do to deal with the problem of bullying? How else can we prepare our children?