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Is Your Child a Bully, Being Bullied, or a Bystander?

Is Your Child a Bully, Being Bullied, or a Bystander?

Four little boys sit around your table eating pizza and telling jokes. Chances are one of them will be bullied before age 18. Seventy-seven of the 100 adults in your church can, if pressed, tell their own stories of abuse at the hand of bullies. And now, the age-old story of cruelty has a new twist—cyber bullying—attacking through Facebook or other social media. Research documents an alarming trend—bullying is on the rise.

Bullying, experts agree, “requires” at least three things. First, an imbalance of power, where the “stronger” act to harm the “weaker” in some way. Second, abuse, which can be verbal (like name-calling and belittling speech), physical (like shoving, “accidentally” running into or tripping someone), or psychological (like deliberately excluding and isolating; sending threatening or degrading notes; or posting mean or obscene messages, threats, or pictures on the internet or through other media) Third, repetition: bullying is relentless and intended to beat down the victim.

Bullying happens among all age groups, including adults. Three-hundred pound Miami Dolphin linebacker Jonathan Martin spotlighted adult bullying last summer when he quit the professional football franchise, alleging that teammate Richie Incognito had verbally abused him. While instances of adult bullying are unusual, bullying involving children, teens, or young adults is common, often within a school setting.

Bullying involves at least two, but often three parties; the bully or bullies, the bullied, and often, bystanders. Each group needs to hear a specific message

To the bully:

You have a sense of power, but chances are you are feeling bullied by someone more powerful than you. You are an abuser, but you are likely also the abused in other relationships. Although you are abused and feel terrible about yourself, this does not give you the right to disrespect or abuse others. Don’t treat others as you are being treated; rather treat others as you want to be treated (see Matthew 7:12). If you are in an abusive situation, you may be able to apply some of the ideas below.

It’s important to realize that you, as well as the person you are bullying, are created in the image and likeness of God. Because of this, you are not to speak evil of or hurt other people (James 3:9). The Bible says that everyone, including you, is “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). God has created us equal yet unique. Each has our own set of God-given gifts and abilities. One of your qualities is strength. Have you ever thought that God made you strong so you can protect the weak and help them feel safe, not hurt them to make yourself feel better? Former bully Sean came to this realization. “I’ve decided to say sorry for what I did wrong. I stopped bullying, and I stop other people from bullying. You gotta be there for kids who have been bullied.”  

Finally, you may think your bullying is just fun and games. Perhaps your parents, like many adults, think it is no big deal, because, “Kids will be kids.” It’s important to realize that bullying sometimes has unintended consequences. Victims of bullying can be up to nine times more likely to kill themselves. Fifteen-year-old Canadian Amanda Todd committed suicide in January after classmates used the Internet to bully, torment, and urge her to kill herself.

Even if you mean it when you say things like, “You should be dead; no one will miss you,” you are wrong. The average suicide intimately affects six others, so there will be a lot more people hurting than the one who killed herself. You may even unleash greater evil than you ever imagined or intended. Have you ever thought how your bullying could be creating a killer who will come after you, your friends, and even your family by way of revenge? It’s something to think about.

To the bullied: 

You are in a difficult position. You’re afraid. When you cower, however, it gives your bullies more power. As hard as it is, try not to let your bully know you are bothered by their words and actions; it just encourages them.

If you are being cyber bullied, you have a record of the attacks. Authorities say you need to keep accurate records of the hateful messages you receive. These records are solid evidence. If you or someone you care about is bullied or threatened with bodily harm, you should report this to the police. If you are being attacked via the Internet, a first line of defense is to change your account or phone number and block the person from contacting you.

Avoid becoming vengeful. Although it’s natural to feel this way, you need to give your revenge over to the Lord. Paul was bullied, but he  said, “Repay no one evil for not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (>Romans 12:17, 19). This means you shouldn’t retaliate by writing mean things on the internet or becoming violent. This doesn’t mean, however, that you should do nothing. Soon after this statement, Paul writes about how God gives our authorities the power to punish wrongdoing (Romans 13:4-5). Tell your authorities you are being bullied. Don’t suffer in silence.

To the bystanders: 

You hate bullying. You know it’s wrong and want it to stop. You feel bad for the bullied kids, but also powerless to do anything about it. The truth is, you can make a difference. Sometimes, all it takes is for someone like you to tell the bully or bullies to stop and leave that person alone. Bridgette stood up for an autistic boy being picked on in her school. Once she stood up for him, the bullies stopped. “Sometimes changing a bully is difficult and even impossible,” she says,” but if you don’t try, those who are bullied will never know how much you care, and those who bully will continue to think their actions are acceptable. You can choose to remain a silent bystander, or you can take a stand to defend others. It’s up to you.”  

You can advocate for the weak and vulnerable not just by speaking up when bullying happens, but also by telling the proper authorities about it. You can recruit stronger kids who don’t bully to become student “guardian angels,” willing to step in when the bullies strike out and speak up for the weak. You could even begin a campaign on campus for a bully free zone. The website provides resources and creative ideas for putting an end to bullying at your school.

So whether you are a bully, the bullied, or a bystander, God has a message for you. Will you heed it?

This article originally appeared in Reach Out, Columbia magazine and is used with permission

Will Honeycutt has been a professor of contemporary issues and apologetics at Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA, since 1995. He lives in Forest, VA, with his wife of 25 years and their adult daughter and enjoys teaching college-aged adults in his church.

Publication date: September 3, 2014