When I think of bullies my mind flashes back to the 7th grade. I was walking home from school with my cousin and her friend who were 9th graders. In front of us was another 7th grader, the size of a 9th grader. He had obviously hit puberty quicker than me. What I noticed was that he was picking on a much smaller child in elementary school; he kept tripping him. I don’t know why, perhaps it was some innate sense of justice, a desire to impress my cousin and her friend, or the feeling that it was the manly thing to do – but I heard myself say the proverbial phrase, “Why don’t you pick on someone your own size”. Apparently, he thought I fit the bill because his fist connected with my nose. Soon we were both rolling on the ground until we mutually agreed it was a draw, stopped and each of us went on our way. It would not be my last encounter with a bully.
An Old and Widespread Problem
Bullying has been around since time began and is everywhere. Studies show that anywhere from 50-80% of children have been victims of bullies. Of course this is not just a school problem but exists in the workplace, the church, the neighborhood and even among nations. However, with the Columbine shootings in Colorado in 1999 both the violence and visibility of bullying has greatly increased. With the advent of the Internet, cyber-bullying has become a new hazard to the welfare of our youth. Schools and other organizations are becoming more proactive in trying to prevent and teach how to deal with this social ill. Bullying is generally about power, anger and self-esteem. The bully is trying to feel better about his or her self by showing they have power and control over another through physical, verbal or social intimidation. Anger is usually the result of a hurt, a blocked goal or being made to feel inadequate or unlovable. Bullies have often been victims of another bully. There could be any number of negative circumstances in the bully’s life that are causing them to act out their anger.
How to Deal With a Bully
Regardless of the cause, bulling is never justified. However, it is a reality that many people will have to deal with. I want to focus on bullying in the school setting since it is so often in the News. We will also discuss how to deal with it from a biblical perspective. Does God really have anything to say on this subject? Let’s look from three perspectives; the person being bullied, the parent of the one being bullied, and the friend of the one being bullied.
The Person Being Bullied
Should you find yourself dealing with a bully what advice could you get from God that would help you? Consider these bits of scriptural wisdom:
Seek to be a peacemaker
Jesus said that this was a trait of a true child of God (Matt. 5 – “Blessed are the peacemakers…”). Don’t’ feel you have to respond to every taunt or verbal assault. When possible just ignore the bully and walk away. Bullies look for an emotional response and when they get one this starts the cycle of bullying. Without this they can’t show their power because you are not giving them any control over you.
Show courage and confidence
All through scripture God encourages us to be courageous (Deut. 31.6; Josh. 1.6; Psalm 24.17). Think of King David facing the bully Goliath. Goliath was over nine feet tall and used his size to bully and intimidate the entire army of Israel. There was not a man brave enough to face him until David, a young shepherd boy, stepped forward. This was a ridiculous mismatch so much so that Goliath was offended Israel would insult him by sending out a boy to respond to his challenge. David faced the giant with the confidence and courage that he got from God (1 Sam. 17. 45-46). Sometimes just facing the bully with confidence and telling him “No, leave me alone” can stop the situation.
Diffuse the situation with wise words
The Bible says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger,” (Proverbs 15:1). This may mean using humor, a question or simply an “all right” as you move on.
Tell your parents or another adult of the situation
Scripture tells us in Romans 12:18, “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” In other words, do all within your power to live peaceably with others but remember you can’t control others. There are some people you just can’t live peaceably with because they don’t want to. Don’t suffer the abuse of bullying alone, get help. Find an adult who will listen, believe and help you do something about the situation.
The Parent of the Child Being Bullied
Often the parent doesn’t know that their child is being bullied until something traumatic happens. The child is unwilling to tell their parent for any number of reasons. These could include intimidation by the bully, they feel they need to handle things on their own, they feel they won’t be heard or believed, fear of retaliation by the bully or they don’t want to burden their parent because of other problems the parent is dealing with. These are just a few of the possibilities. What can you do to help your child not be victim of a bully?
Start with the basics, the relationship
Ephesians 6:4 tells fathers (and mothers) to not provoke their children to wrath or bitterness but rather train them in God’s ways. Parenting is about achieving the proper balance of love and discipline. Good discipline is based upon making a child feel loved. Discipline without love will only produce resentment and rebellion in a child. Love without discipline will lead to a lack of character, insecurity and a feeling of being unloved. We build a relationship by spending time with them, listening to them, entering their world and affirming them. When the relationship is built, a child will feel more able to come to us with their problems.
Give you child confidence and character
This decreases the chance of them being victim to a bully for a number of reasons. One is bullies tend to pick on the loners and those who look easy to control. People with confidence don’t fit this model. Confidence comes from a healthy self-image, which begins in our family of origin. Giving a child love, acceptance and affirmation builds both of these. Teaching a child that they are created and designed by God for a special purpose in life is a part of this process. When a parent models true love for God and others including the child it makes these truths real (Deuteronomy 6: 4-6). Training a child this way will also give them better people skills to equip them to deal with problem people in life.
Be proactive when necessary
Proverbs 27:23 says, “Be diligent to know the state of your flocks, and attend to your herds.” Your home and children are your flocks – know what is going on in their lives. If you find out that your child is being bullied, visit the school, talk with the principle or teacher and see if things change. Don’t quit until you get some results.
The Friend of One Being Bullied
What if you have a friend who is being bullied? How should you respond to such a situation? Perhaps you don’t know what to do, fear what others will think of you if you do intervene or you are afraid the bully will turn on you. Here are a few things for you to think about.
Are you a true friend?
Proverbs 17:17 tells us, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” When things get tough a true friend hangs in there. They are more concerned about their friend than what people will think of them for helping their friend. The test of true friendship is shown in the times of adversity.
Can you speak the truth in love to your friend?
(See Proverbs 27:6 and Ephesians 4:15) You may need to encourage them to talk with their parent or someone about the bullying. If you see them becoming severely depressed you may need to take the initiative to speak to someone on their behalf. Stand with your friend against the bully Ecclesiastes 4: 9-12 talks about the value of being a friend. Verse 12 says, “Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him.” Sometimes there is strength in numbers. Bullying is the result of living in a world broken by sin. It shouldn’t happen to people but the reality is it does. It happens on many fronts and causes various degrees of harm to people. Hopefully this wisdom from God can help those whose lives are disrupted by a bully to better handle it.
Dr. John Hawkins Sr.,along with his son John Jr.,are co-directors of Gateway Counseling Center. He is also founder and pastor of Center Pointe Church both in Boynton Beach, Fl. Dr. John Hawkins can be reached at:[email protected]