Spend a few minutes watching the news, perusing social media, or listening to children and parents talk. It is easy to see that bullying is a hot-button issue that many feel needs to be addressed more strenuously than has been done previously. While bullying is certainly a prevalent issue and should be addressed whenever and wherever it is encountered, efforts in dealing with the bullies are (and due to their very nature, must be) largely reactive. However, if more time and energy were spent making children, all children, “bullyproof,” and doing so with an eye toward God’s plan for their lives, then the issue of bullying might be less so. Please note that I am in no way excusing a bully’s behavior, nor am I laying blame at the feet of the victim. I am, however, advocating for teaching our children a greater degree of resiliency, of helping them to be able to both withstand and recover quickly from this difficult situation. This plan for bullyproofing children begins where all solutions must, with the Word of God and what He says about us. It begins with identity.
Identity. In the lives of young people, there is no more important word. They struggle with it. They search for it. They allow teachers and peers, bullies, and best friends to define it for them. This is, perhaps, the most dangerous thing that can happen during these formative years. When identity and self-worth are created through “likes” on Facebook and followers on sites like Twitter and Instagram, children learn, erroneously, that the thoughts of others somehow define them. This creates the perfect environment for bullying. It is time that we step in and begin to teach our children that people should not, and cannot, define them. God has already done so. We must teach them that they are princes and princesses in the kingdom of God. We must show them that they are loved and adored by the one who created them and that they have a unique purpose that can be fulfilled only by following God’s path for their lives. This can only be done by teaching them what the Word of God says about them:
- They must know that they are loved.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (Jn 3:16, NIV)
- They must understand that they have purpose.
For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them. (Eph 2:10)
- They must understand that there is a plan for their lives.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jer 29:11)
- They must know that they are protected.
And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:7)
Sadly, understanding who they are in Christ is simply not enough to completely bullyproof a child. Instead, they must be taught to operate from that identity. To begin, they must learn that the way that we treat people is important.
The Golden Rule
The Golden Rule from Luke 6:31 still works. “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” This Message expounds on this particularly well when it says:
“I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind. Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier.”
Bullies find it increasingly difficult to target people who are loving, caring, and compassionate, even to the seemingly unlovable. Attached to this age-old principle is the concept of empathy. It has been said that “hurting people hurt people.” This is especially true in the bully-victim relationship. Oftentimes, the bully is going home to circumstances that we simply cannot imagine. In my career, I have seen bullying stem from abusive homes, extreme poverty, and neglect. The bully’s story is often even more tragic than the victim’s. Does that excuse bad behavior? Certainly not, but it does allow a certain amount of empathy when attempting to understand and forgive the behavior, and forgiveness is vital. Forgiveness frees us from the negative impact caused by the actions of others and allows us to move forward in spite of bad behavior. True forgiveness, however, is only possible when we are operating from that God-created identity.
Find Faithful Friends
While treating others well is vital, we must also teach our children to surround themselves with a group of like-minded friends that can support them in their walk and help them through the difficult patches. Paul warns in 1 Cor. 15:33 “Bad company corrupts good character,” while Proverbs 12:26 tells us, “The righteous choose their friends carefully, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.” Often, children are drawn into situations where bullying becomes an issue, not through their own actions but by those with whom they choose to associate. This does not mean that we do not extend love and grace to everyone that we meet, but it does mean that we are to choose carefully those with whom we associate regularly. “By yourself, you’re unprotected. With a friend, you can face the worst. Can you round up a third? A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped” (Ecc 4:12).
Finally (at least for the moment) both parent and child must understand the power and the value of earnest prayer. As parents, we must pray continually for the protection of our children. We must build that hedge around them and trust God to help us help them when and if a situation arises. We must pray that they are able to walk in the footsteps of Christ and operate boldly in the identity and purpose for their life. Then, we must teach our children to pray. We must teach them to pray for protection and guidance. We must teach them to pray for their peers, for their schools, and for their friends. We must pray with them and help them listen as God begins to order their steps.
It is time that our children know that they are more than their likes on Facebook. Their followers on Instagram do not define them. They are more than their appearance and should be valued for more than their muscles or their curves. They are not defined by what others post about them on Facebook or Twitter. They are more than the rumors being spread or the lies being told.
Praying with you!