How can we help our children avoid the temptations that can lead to treating others unkindly or even bullying others?
School systems are cracking down on bullying as much as they can with awareness programs and zero tolerance measures. Yet, realistically, there are too many kids and too few staff members to really prevent bullying.
As Christians, what can we do to help teach our children the importance of not excluding people or bullying?
Think for a moment of all the pain and misery caused by bullying. Since many suffer quietly, the terrible effects are often overlooked until someone is pushed to the breaking point of a mental breakdown, suicide or violence. But many more lives and psyches are damaged by this terrible scourge.
Are we, our friends or our children in any way contributing to this?
What are our words and example telling our children about how to treat others? Our example can play a role in promoting or preventing bullying. Here are some things to consider:
- Do I joke about someone who is socially awkward? Do I try to avoid inviting him or her to events?
- Do I insult someone consistently in my own group of people I am comfortable with?
- Do I try to make others look stupid in front of a group of people?
- What is my child doing at school? Who does my child hang out with at school, and how does he or she talk about the other kids? Does my child sit with the overweight kid who gets several insults a day, or does my child join in with the insults?
Jesus Christ hated bullying, and if we are trying to model our lives after Christ’s life, we also should hate the ideas of bullying and excluding people from social circles. In Mark 2:16-17, we see an example of Jesus Christ defending the “outcasts” and scolding the “in crowd.”
“And when the scribes and Pharisees saw Him eating with the tax collectors and sinners, they said to His disciples, ‘How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?’ When Jesus heard it, He said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.’”
The Pharisees and scribes were perfect examples of bullies. They made rank and status more important than anything else. They were quick to insult and label others as sinners and rejects. They were attention and power hungry. They thought they had no need of reform!
Jesus Christ made the important point to them, and to all of us, that He came to help those who do not see themselves as perfect and who are often considered substandard (or rejects and outcasts) by the elite. We should try to help our children become less focused on seeking approval of the “in crowd” and more focused on helping those who actually need more social support and outgoing friendliness.
The fickle, hypocritical “in crowd”
Often the young people who are being bullied are described by other students as “rejects,” “weird” and “loners.” It seems it’s less common to hear a student say, “I went up and talked to him when he was sitting alone” or “I invited him over to our table.”
As Christians, we know that we and our children should treat everyone with kindness. When possible, we should stand up for the downtrodden outcasts who are being bullied.Everyone wants to be accepted and to “fit in.” However, fitting in shouldn’t come at the price of making other human beings miserable through bullying or purposefully humiliating others. We must always evaluate the kind of people we associate with and teach our children to do that as well.
Sometimes the most vicious bullies are popular, involved in sports, have big groups of friends and get good grades. Likewise as adults, sometimes the most sadistic bullies are wealthy, well connected in the community and part of large social circles.
What to do about bullying and social distancing
As Christians, we know that we and our children should treat everyone with kindness—one of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22; see our article “Fruit of the Spirit: Kindness”). When possible, we should stand up for the downtrodden outcasts who are being bullied.
As the book of Proverbs says, “Open your mouth for the speechless, in the cause of all who are appointed to die. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8-9).
We must teach ourselves and our children that bullying and social distancing are not Christian.
For additional reading, see “How to Be a Good Neighbor,” “Dealing With Difficult People,” “Are You Rude?” “Sticks and Stones: 6 Ways to Improve Your Words” and “Words That Hurt, Words That Help.”
Eddie Foster, a school speech-language pathologist, and his wife are members in the Cincinnati/Dayton, Ohio, congregation of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association.