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Friday, October 15, 2010

Helping teen's deal with bullies.

Having once again become alarmed and saddened by the reporting of suicides due to bullying I set about to provide a Bible lesson for teenagers on How To Handle Bullies. While investigating internet resources I found a wide variety of suggestions including luring the bully into a wooded area and attacking them with a sword (no kidding).

The Bible does have many examples of bullying. The story of David and Goliath come quickly to mind. David dealt with many bullies. Sometimes he fought back, sometimes he ran and hid but he always "strengthened himself in the Lord." (1 Samuel 30:6) David wasn't perfect but he had a strong relationship with God to whom he regularly cried out to for help and understanding and frequently forgiveness.

A single Bible lesson will not provide the necessary silver-bullet to vanquish the problem of bullying in the adolescents life. The real answer is to envelope the kids in a caring supportive community that provides them with real-time help and advice for each situation as it arises. This must included "listening ears", wisdom from trusted counselors, and a strong sense of their identity in Christ.

Parents must keep an attentive eye on their child's situation. They must provide the empathetic "listening ears" and occasionally go-to-bat for their kids. Sometimes kids are dealing with additional issues like guilt or depression. The bulling exacerbates these problems, may become the straw that broke the camels back, but isn't necessarily the main thing that needs attention. Inform parents to watch for clues and misbehavior on their child's internet social pages.

School's must be more vigilant and foster a safer environment. This may need to include getting involved in the bullies life to determine why this child feels compelled to act out this way.

We must also provide the kids with workable coping mechanisms so they don't think that suicide is their only option. I have a lesson on suicide but this might not be the best context in which to use it. Kid's will be dealing with angry people and unfair situations all of their lives. Sometimes a little understanding of the perpetrators will help them not take insults too personally.

In any case, bringing it up in your youth group or Sunday school class is always a good idea. It helps the kids feel that you are connected in a relative way to their everyday situations and gives them one more supportive adult they might turn to for advice and wisdom.

In addition, your students might not have even realized that they could be playing a part in bullying when they join in the laughter at another students blunder. Watching their own behavior might help them become more sympathetic to the one being bullied and encourage them to become part of the solution. Part of adolescent maturity is realizing that their actions can have profound effects on others. Talk about what is personally at stake for them if they befriend the uncool person. Consider Jesus' interaction with Zacchaeus (Luke 19). Talk about your youth group being a safe place for the "down-trodden" and oppressed.

You should also be aware of students that shy away from participation in activities and games. This may be an indication that they have felt personal distress due to normal teenage awkwardness. No one likes being laughed at especially if they feel alone. This is a great opening to become a friend and supportive adult. Give these kids many opportunities to enjoy social interactions. Value their input whenever they participate in class discussion.

Some great professional advice is available from this book:

291947: What Do I Do When: Teenagers Encounter Bullying and Violence?What Do I Do When: Teenagers Encounter Bullying and Violence?

By Youth Specialties, Just $5.49 from Christian

Explore bullying, violence, and aggression from the perspective of the victim and the aggressor. Discover how theology informs the issue, and what practical actions you can take to help stop the violence and heal the pain. Paperback.
I have a rich past of being bullied. The childish locker room heckling made being on the skins team (of shirts vs skins) totally beyond my comfort zone. At one time I was also a bully. In fourth grade I picked on the weird looking kid with the speech impediment until he beat the tar out of me. Then I was given the title of being the weird kid. This social standing made me the butt of jokes and frequent beatings all through middle school. It had a profound effect my on whole life. How I wished there had been someone there for me. Just a few words of wisdom or encouragement would have helped. Even the youth group leader was a source of belittlement and exclusion. Did he even know? Did he even care to know? Thanks be to God who came to me and told me I was His son.

Try not to be thoughtless. Do your best to help kids through these hard years of early adolescence.

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