I typed “bullying” into the search engine on YouTube and over 9 million videos were listed. 9,360,000. I just sat there and looked at that number. Next I turned to Amazon’s book section. After typing “bullying” again into the search engine, I watched as 101 pages of books were listed. Not 101 books — 101 pages of books.
If that many people took the time to make that many videos and write that many books, how many kids and teens are actually being bullied each and every day at school? The numbers must be staggering.
At stopbullying.gov, one articles says, “Kids who are bullied can experience negative physical and mental health issues. They are likely to experience depression and anxiety, increased feelings of sadness and loneliness, changes in sleep and eating patterns, and loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy.
These issues may persist into adulthood.
They are more likely to miss, skip, or drop out of school.”
“There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.” — Proverbs 6:16-19
Bullies devise hurtful plans in their heart, they are quick to make it happen, they tell lies about their victim, and they indeed spread rumors among the other kids.
Kids who are bullied feel hopeless and isolated. Alone.
“Loneliness might be the hardest cross we bear.”
— John Eldredge, Epic
Kids pick that cross up at a very young age. And some never put it back down again.
I am not qualified to speak deeply about this subject, but I would be remiss if I didn’t tie together the two topics: bullying and belonging. Or not belonging. The connection is obvious. But there have been campaigns in schools for years to help stop the bullying. Why can’t we get a handle on this?
Earlier this summer, in an article at the stopbullying website, Susan Swearer, a Professor with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Co-Director of the Bullying Research Network, said, “Unfortunately, many schools respond to negative behaviors such as bullying with punishment, which is thought to reduce or eliminate such behaviors. After years of research on “zero-tolerance” to end bullying and violence, we know that these punishment-based approaches do not work. Given this knowledge, it makes better sense to focus on teaching and modeling pro-social behavior, like teaching kindness.”
Such a simple idea. Most of us are familiar with the teaching “love your enemies” and “pray for those who persecute you,” but this suggestion is different. It turns the table, and involves teaching the bully to be kind.
Teaching kindness. Put off meanness. Put on kindness.
I remember my pastor teaching the “put off/put on” principle based on the passage out of Luke 11. The idea is that we can’t just put off bad behavior and leave a void. Bad behavior, even worse behavior, will just find it’s way back into our being. We must replace bad behavior with good behavior. Put off bad. Put on good. Again and again and again. Until the good behavior is part of who we are.
Instead of punishment for bad behavior, let’s praise kindness. Instead of 3 strikes you’re out, how about 3 points and you get a reward? It has to be intentional. I need a plan, and so do you. Do you have any young people in your life? Kids get enough training in “watching out for number one” – let’s begin to teach the children to look out for one another and to just be kind.
Susan Swearer goes on to say, “When elementary students performed three acts of kindness per week, they significantly increased their acceptance of peers compared to kids who did not perform three acts of kindness. Students who are taught kindness are more empathetic, more socially aware and connected, and they received higher grades too.”
We may never eliminate bullying entirely, but maybe if we begin teaching the bully to be kind, and cultivating belonging to those being abused, we can help kids with the challenges they face and diminish the long-term physical and emotional effects of peer bullying.
We search for a place to belong from the moment we are born. We look for a group of people to call our own in every stage of life. If we were the victim of bullying during our adolescence, we may struggle to “fit in” as an adult. We are timid, distrustful, and possibly wounded. It takes courage to be vulnerable. But maybe it’s time to lay down that cross. Maybe, just maybe, kindness is within our reach.
He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God.
— Micah 6:8
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.
— Philippians 2:3-5
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
— Ephesians 4:2
Live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.
— 1 Peter 3:8