“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me!” That was my usual response in grade school when a classmate called me names or made fun of me. Unfortunately, there were those times when a classmate used this same expression on me.
Herein lies the truth on bullying: Children are bullied and are bullies. I hated to be bullied; yet I was not afraid to bully others.
However, bullying has moved far beyond what I experienced in the 1950s—just part of being a kid—to a much darker side involving physical violence, mental and emotional harm, even suicide. Bullying is a serious dilemma plaguing children and teens from kindergarten through high school across the globe. Parents, school administrators and law enforcement officials grapple with the problem, yet bullying is spiraling out of control.
In 2012, school administrators reported that 282,000 high school students in America were physically attacked each month. This number may reflect only a quarter of the actual physically violent bullying incidents that took place. In school surveys, 90 percent of 4th through 8th graders report being victims of bullying.
Parents’ Involvement Needed
Based on 2012 reports, more than 13 million American school-age children will be bullied in the coming school year. Fifty-six percent of students attending school will witness some type of bullying incident. Each day, 160,000 kids will stay home from school due to fear of being bullied. One in 10 students who drops out of school will do so because of repeated bullying.
This is no small issue. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth, ages 10 to 24: About 4,400 young people kill themselves each year. A recent British study stated that at least half of suicides among young people are related to bullying. Over the last three decades, bullying incidents have risen dramatically. The suicide rate among 10-to-14-year-olds grew more than 50 percent in the same time period.
In the U.S., all states except Montana have anti-bullying legislation. There is a growing lobby to enact federal anti-bullying laws. Internationally, concerned groups want federal laws enacted in their countries. Japan is in the process of enacting zero-tolerance laws to get control of the problem there. Will more laws solve the bullying problem? Think about it. How often do laws stop crime?
Parents, to protect your child from bullying—or becoming a bully—you must take action. Do you know what bullying is? It is not just kid’s stuff anymore. Extreme cases involve assault and battery. Do you know if your child is being bullied? Most young people—intimidated and ashamed of being bullied—are reluctant to tell their parents. Do you know what is going on in your child’s school? You must educate yourself. Your child’s chances of being bullied or seeing another student bullied grow each day that school is in session.
Expect Bullying to Continue
Many administrators live in denial that bullying is a serious problem at their schools. School and law enforcement officials are not in agreement—and some are outright confused—about how to control bullying, let alone stop it.
Get to know your child’s principal and assistant principal. Attend school board meetings. Some school administrators do not take bullying seriously. Some school boards have viewed the problem as a “kids will be kids” matter, anticipating that bullies will outgrow the problem. Unfortunately, it has taken the tragic suicides of young students to reveal the monster that bullying has become.
Bully, a documentary released in 2012, reveals the menacing effects bullying has on young people and their families. The film chronicles the tragic history of Tyler Long and Ty Smalley, who, because of the chronic mockery and physical harassment they faced, committed suicide. The film also documents three other families’ difficulties with school officials and law enforcement as they try to solve the bully problem in their school districts. It is worth seeing.
More than anything, Bully shows the vital importance parental involvement plays in solving the bullying problem.
Some school administrators and teachers see that bullying has grown worse and are working hard to deal with the problem. “Bullying isn’t a new phenomenon. In recent years, however, the world has witnessed an increase in the frequency and intensity of bullying in our schools,” wrote former teacher Reba Wadsworth, co-author of Bullying Hurts. “The increased incidence of bullying in all its forms (physical aggression, verbal abuse, emotional bullying and cyber-bullying) has resulted in psychological and physical harm to the victims and in too many instances, the suicides of children and youth” (ibid).
How are experts like Ms. Wadsworth dealing with the problem? “Our profession is coming to understand that bullying is more complex than most of us have previously thought,” Wadsworth says. “There are no quick fixes, no set of rules or regulations that will magically turn this around. The research we have read suggests the need to build empathy throughout the community, to highlight and strengthen the bonds of common humanity, to feed and support kindness behavior, and to avoid feeding bullying behaviors through apathy, laughter and increased social status.”
All of that may sound good on paper, but it reflects a lot of feminine-oriented thinking that will not stop peer-to-peer violence and ridicule. Sitting down for discussion over a cup of chai tea will not stop a bully. The film Bully shows clearly that handshakes and hugs aren’t workable solutions. Bullies must be taught that there are serious penalties for both physical and emotional bullying. Here is what you can do.
‘My child? A bully?!’
To stop bullying, you must start at home—in the family.
To protect your child and other children from bullying, you must first make sure that your child is not a bully. As a parent, you must face the reality that your child could be a bully. Experts who study bullying recognize that it is largely a learned behavior. Children can learn bullying at home. It is a tough reality to face, but true.
Siblings are often guilty of bullying each other. It takes a careful eye to catch and stop it. During our child-rearing years, my wife and I discovered that it is not always a matter of the oldest child bullying the youngest. One of my youngest daughters knew how to get the best of her older sister. When you see your children bullying each other, stop it immediately. Teach them how their actions are harming their brother or sister. Spell out how you will punish them if the problem persists, then follow through. When you don’t stop bullying at home, you could be helping your child to land in jail.
What about you parents—are you bullies? Do you incessantly tease your child or others? Do you point out your child’s weaknesses, foibles and physical imperfections in front of others? Do you regularly put others down? Do you play practical jokes on others at inappropriate times? Are you part of a clique that isolates others? These are actions of bullies. Remember, your example is one of your child’s most powerful teachers.
As a parent, you need to become an expert at detecting bullying—in your child, or against your child. Bullying comes in several forms.
Physical bullying can involve elbowing, hitting, kicking, knee bending (pushing or kicking the back of someone’s knee), pinching, pushing, slapping, tripping, and shoulder slamming in an embarrassing or hurtful way. There are also more violent forms of physical bullying, such as cramming someone into his or her locker, choking, restraining or forcing someone to do something he or she does not want to do. Boys tend to be the experts at physical bullying.
Verbal bullying involves teasing, name-calling, insults and put-downs, behind-the-back whispering, bigoted or racist remarks, threats or intimidation.
Relationship bullying happens when a child’s friends and peers refuse to talk to someone, gossip, spread nasty and malicious rumors, exclude someone from a group, destroy a friendship, destroy a reputation, use humiliation, use negative body language or facial expression to undermine someone’s confidence, and use threatening, taunting or pestering gestures as a means of intimidation. Girls are masters at the verbal and relationship bullying.
Cyber-bullying is essentially doing these same things, only using electronic media such as texting, e-mail, chat rooms, digital photography, voicemail, Web pages and social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Oftentimes, cyber bullying is even more vicious because of the anonymity or degree of separation that the Internet provides. Both boys and girls use cyber-bullying.
You should be actively involved with your child to know if he or she is doing any of these things. If so, you must discipline your child, then you must labor to teach him or her how these actions harm others. Teach your child to love, respect and help other children.
You must educate your children to be humble—to encourage and uplift others less fortunate, less talented or less intelligent than they are.
Since children will often not reveal when they are being bullied, all parents must know the signs that indicate their child is under attack. For example, if your child comes home from school with unusual bruising on the upper back and arms, he or she may be a victim of physical bullying. Or, if your child who has always loved to go to school no longer wants to, that could indicate he or she is being regularly bullied.
Consider the Satan Factor
It is not popular to talk about Satan the devil today. Yet, the Bible shows that he is the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4). Satan rules a violent world filled with appalling evils (Galatians 1:4). This is not God’s world. It is because of Satan’s sway over the world we live in that, wherever there are groups of children, bullying will take place sooner or later. Satan is the reason the problem is growing worse and more violent.
One of the most important Bible prophecies for our day shows that Satan has been cast down and imprisoned on Earth (Revelation 12:9, 12). He only has a short time left to wreak havoc on human beings before Jesus Christ returns and kicks him off his throne (Revelation 20:1-2).
The devil is the chief bully of the universe, and he will do everything possible to make your child either a bully or a victim of a bully. You must face the reality that your child is subject to Satan’s evil broadcast (Ephesians 2:2). “People simply do not realize that there is an invisible spirit power injecting into their minds these hostile attitudes,” Herbert W. Armstrong wrote in Mystery of the Ages.
People in the world believe that bullying is a complex issue. Yet, bullying is not as hard to understand when you put Satan into the picture. Bullying is nothing more than arrogant hostility directed at another human being. Satan is the author of that hostility—he inspires it in children and can inspire it in your child if you allow it. Realize that when you are dealing with bullying, you are wrestling with Satan the devil (Ephesians 6:12).
To prevent your child from becoming a bully, you must teach him or her to control his or her aggression, arrogance, contempt for others, desire for dominance, hostility, jealousy, feelings of superiority and selfishness. These are the building blocks of bullying.
In addition, you and your child must build a strong relationship with God. God promises to protect and deliver the righteous from all their trials (Psalm 34:17). Set the example for your child and be sure your relationship with God is secure. Your children should know that you pray and study the Bible. Your children should know that you trust and rely on God for protection, and that you look to Him to fight your battles for you. Then they will do the same.