by Lisa Sorey and Allison Talley

The Christian Parent’s War Against Bullying

This week our local news feeds were filled with graphic and shocking news from all over the world, but perhaps the most shocking story was right here in our own neighborhood. A sixth grader named Andrew Leach in Southaven, Mississippi, just south of Memphis, took his own life after giving up on the hope that he would survive the attacks of bullies in his own school. We’re in the Bible belt, and sometimes it’s hard to fathom that all kids aren’t taught in their homes and churches to love one another, and at the very least to defend the weak. It’s a hard pill to swallow when it’s in your local newspaper and right in your backyard.

Statistics from the U.S. Department of Education claim that 20% of children 12 – 18 are being bullied and the U.S. Justice Department claims that that number may be even higher. Those are children who actually report bullying; most experts suspect that there is a large number who do not.

Why would a child stoop to the level and get the thrill of bullying another child? What’s in it for them? Could it be that a bully has had something in his life that has caused him or her to feel less than their peers? Maybe it gives something to the bully; a sense of power, a sense of accomplishment, or a sense of being better at something that someone else. Whatever the underlying psychological issue, it’s a problem and one that no means of correction or ‘fixing’ has been successful. On the other hand, in a world that is moving further away from God and moral Biblical teaching about patience, kindness, and the love of Christ, we are seeing what the result of a Godless world looks like. It’s cruel and unkind, and it can create a hopelessness that can make one seem that life is not worth living. That could be how Andrew felt.

The general public many not realize that bully, teasing and hazing is illegal in many states, such as Mississippi where this happened. Also, federal laws state that schools are required to address conduct that is severe, pervasive or persistent if it creates a hostile environment. Even though rules and laws are in place, parents must be a partner with the schools that their children attend; they must be advocates not only for their own children but for others. Not only do parents need to intervene, but peers do as well. Recent research reports that 57% of bullying stops when a peer intervenes.

As Christians, what can we do to fight this war against bullying?

  1. It is never too late to encourage compassion for others in our children. Find ways to incorporate active ways to be the hands and feet of Jesus. If you have children who are middle school to high school age, take them to a soup kitchen (this would be a great Saturday family event.) Make sure you spend time talking about what God’s Word calls us to do. Let them talk about the experience, including things that might have made them uncomfortable. Assisted living facilities and nursing homes love to host visitors. Accompany school-aged children on a trip to one of these homes to sing songs or play bingo with some of the residents. This might be a good time for self-examination on our part, as parents. (Do I show compassion to my own children and other family members?)
  2. Continue to try to improve communication with your children. Try not to be judgmental or critical about what they might say. Tell your children that you want to be there for them in all parts of their life. Tell them over and over that you want to hear what they have to say! Listen for opportunities to talk about instances where someone was treated unfairly. Ask your child if they can imagine what it would feel like to be treated in such a way. We have to focus our attention on our children. We have to pay close attention to times that can be teachable moments.
  3. What if your child is the one being bullied? Let them talk, and express your concern for them. Let them know you want to help them and that you want to work with them on ways to help. Remind your child that this is NOT their fault. Keep notes/documentation of occurrences of bullying. Also, keep a record of dates/times that you talk to the school counselor and administrators. Work with your child on ways to respond to bullying. A parent can help by allowing their child to rehearse their responses. Keep the line of communication open with school counselors and administrators.
  4. Pray for our children, other students, teachers, counselors and school administrators.

This is the time of year where people have the chance to hear about hope, maybe for the first time. It’s a season we call Easter and it’s the time to remember that God came to save us all and to release us from our sins. If you know someone struggling with bullying (either the bully or the one being bullied), share the love of Christ and show them the hope and security that can only be found in a relationship with Christ.

Lisa Sorey is a therapist at Summit Counseling at First Baptist Jackson and is a regular contributor to some of our life stories.

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