“Bullying is an unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance…” This definition was taken directly from the web-site www.stopbullying.gov.
As a children’s ministry leader who is in the trenches every week with older elementary kids, and who has had her own two boys bullied in school, I am hyper-sensitive to this issue. My oldest son was, okay, I’ll just say it…a computer geek and was bullied because he was also extremely shy. It got so bad that he refused to go the last day of 8th grade because he was told he would be ‘beaten up.’ My younger son, who has a high functioning form of autism, called Asperger’s, was also bullied in school because of his special behavioral quirks. He eventually found his ‘posse of friends,’ who pretty much protected him through-out his elementary years. He is now in high school, and he still has that close group of friends that watch out for him.
Unfortunately, most kids don’t have that close knit group of friends that protect them from bullies. My younger son was very lucky, my oldest son not so much.
So, how do we approach bullying from a Christian perspective? How do we explain to these kids who are bullied to ‘love them anyway’ and still stress the importance of zero tolerance?
If we look to the Bible, we find that Jesus was bullied. Really badly bullied! He was dragged around town, made fun of, was threatened, beaten up and crucified. But what was His response? In Luke 23:34, Jesus said, ”Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Christian parents and leaders must protect children from being bullied, while still teaching them to forgive.
What we, as leaders, need to do on top of teaching kids how to forgive, is to help them understand why kids bully.” They bully because “hurting people hurt people.” Kids need to know that when they meet a bully, what they see are the hurtful things they are doing to others. But what they don’t see is WHY they are hurting others, why they are bullying. They may come from broken homes, be lonely or angry, or going through some tough times.
One of my favorite series I like to teach for my 4th-6th graders at the beginning of every school year, is called ‘Bullies’. It is produced by www.preteenministry.net. Instead of getting revenge, we look at a different means of dealing with them: To pray for them, to love them, and to show them kindness and, most importantly, to forgive them. But, we also need to make sure they know what to do when it occurs—to tell someone—a teacher, a parent or trustworthy adult.
Kids also need to know that they can reach out to adult leaders, teachers or parents. They should never allow bullies to pressure them to keep secrets. If a child tells a Children’s Ministry leader that they’ve been bullied, the leader may need to partner with parents to help them resolve the matter, especially if the parents feel unequipped to handle the matter themselves.
So what is our response? We need to stress to our kids the importance of passing on forgiveness to the people in our world, including bullies, but at the same time, having zero tolerance for it. As always, we need to follow our greatest example–Jesus didn’t allow others to be bullied, but He still showed forgiveness.