I'm always surprised by how mean kids can be to each other. I really shouldn't be because kids have been being mean to each other since the beginning of time (Cain and Abel anyone?). But the extent of the cruelty that kids can dish out to each other is sometimes astonishing.
The collective power of a group of kids when they decide to target a "weaker" child is a force to be reckoned with, and it can be hard for other kids to stand against the tide. We all want our kids to stand up for what's right, and allowing another child to be bullied is never right. Yet, telling our kids to stand up to the crowd is somewhat like telling them to stand on the beach and stop the waves from crashing.
Generally, kids, by themselves, have a hard time stopping bullying, especially when the bullying is verbal and emotional and not physical. That type of bullying is even sometimes difficult for younger kids to recognize as bullying. It's our job to give our kids the tools to recognize bullying when it happens and to understand when it's time to get an adult involved. But teachers and other adults can't stop what they don't see.
No kid wants to be a snitch, but we can offer our kids alternatives to going directly to the teacher in full view of the class. The most important thing we can teach our kids about situations where other kids are being bullied is that God stands up for the weak. Psalm 82:3-4 tells us "Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked."
Jesus was often concerned with the weak and the oppressed. He hung out with the lepers, who were ostracized from society. He ate dinner with tax collectors, who were considered the lowest of the low in Jewish society. Jesus was concerned with protecting the weak and the innocent, and so we should be.
- Make sure your child knows how to identify bullying. Every child recognizes that someone hitting someone else is a form of bullying, but many child may not realize that a constant barrage of mean and belittling comments qualifies as bullying as well. Talk with your child about different situations that can constitute bullying.
- Read Psalm 82:3-4 with your child. Talk about how if God is concerned with defending the weak, then we should be, too. Talk about different ways that your child can defend another child: don't participate in the bullying, offer the bullied child support, tell an adult what is going on.
- Create an environment in your home where your child feels comfortable telling you what is happening. Your child may not feel comfortable telling the teacher what is going on, but they may tell you. Praise your child for telling an adult but don't force them into telling their teacher if that's not a step they feel comfortable with. Come up with alternative ways to let the teacher know what is going on that make your child feel comfortable.
- If your child tells you about a bullying situation, don't sit on your hands. Take the initiative to tell the teacher. This takes the burden off your child to publicly "tattle" on their friends but still lets the teacher know what is going on. Live by the motto, "If this were happening to my child and another parent knew about it, would I want them to get involved?" If the answer is yes, then it's time for you to step up and get involved. Talk to the teacher and/or the school counselor.
Too many kids get up in the morning and dread going to school because other kids are making their lives miserable. Encouraging our kids to stand up for what's right and stepping into the fray when the situation warrants aren't just good ideas, they're what we are called to do.