The words “Freshman year of High School” should be enough to make any person, no matter size, appearance, or personality, shiver. Often times, the few months preceding one’s entry into high school are plagued with horror stories of what happens to “Freshies.” From being on the receiving end of an old fashioned swirlie to being verbally mocked and abused, Freshman year tends to cause angst and worry. I can say this with authority because I’ve walked those shoes.
I was almost six feet tall, one hundred pounds soaking wet, and sporting “Harry Potter-esque” glasses. It didn’t help that I had the propensity to be entirely obnoxious. While I could make the argument that the bullying was justified, I can’t say that it didn’t hurt me deeply. Sure, I wasn’t the best looking or biggest kid around but I was still human.
I write to you today because this is an issue that is on-going. Bullying affects hundreds of thousands of students every day, week, month, and year. It isn’t even restricted solely to Freshman year. Young children experience it. Grown adults deal with it. The tendency for humankind to oppress those seen as weaker is an idea that has existed from the Fall of Man in Genesis 3. It is a serious problem.
The culture around us has indeed noticed and have begun jumping on the “solution-train” looking for ways to decrease such acts. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported in 2013 that “nearly 1 in 3 (27.8%) students reported being bullied at some point in the year1.” Among those bullied, 45% reported psychological bullying occurred the most while physical and cyber bullying trailed with respective percentages of 41% and 17% (Zweig, Dank, Lachman, & Yahner, 2013)2. The aforementioned gentleman also reported that most occurrences of bullying took place in middle school and trailed off in their tenth-grade year.
With all of that said, I believe that we can agree that there is an issue. Anti-bullying programs have stepped up their game in recent years and have done a substantial amount in decreasing these actions. However, they are missing a vital piece of the puzzle: The Gospel.
It is one thing to look at the surface level and try to change behavior. We may be able to appropriately convince someone that their actions are wrong but are we digging deeper and showing them why? Are we, as Christians, teaching our children, teenagers, and young adults what the Gospel says about the inherent value of human beings? Of themselves? I firmly believe that there are two sides of bullying and one equal solution to fix both.
In psychological terms, those procuring the action of bullying will be labeled the “agent.” The ones on the receiving end will be labeled the “victims.” With a biblical understanding of human life, we see that all humans are seeking their identities apart from God. With the case of bullying, these two sides are seeking their identification and finding it within the positive and negative reinforcement.
The agents of bullying find their identity in preying on the weak and finding validation from being the “leader of the pack.” The victims receive their identity from such actions and begin crafting a personality that represents the weaker vessel. With this mindset, they adapt to being on the bottom of the food chain. They live every moment of their lives with the fundamental belief that they are worth nothing.
It is almost as if Darwin’s theory of “Survival of the Fittest” rings true, even though Creationists have nothing to do with Darwinism. Regardless, it is my belief that both sides lack a core understanding of who they are in God and what the Gospel does for each. Let’s take a look at some characteristics of each side:
- Their source of motivation typically stems from a primary moment of victimization.
- e. They were once bullied or they were raised in a home with an abusive parent. The anger the child feels from that hurt fuels their bullying tendencies.
- It stems from a mindset that says, “Never again. Never again will I allow myself to be weaker. Never again will I allow someone to make me feel small.”
- Seeks a weaker vessel to inflict this damage upon.
- Seeks validation. Longs to be heard.
- Finds it in the laughter or applause of those around him/her. Typically finds pleasure in being perceived as strong.
- Disguises their own weakness/pain by focusing in on someone else’s.
- Confused: “What did I do to deserve this?”
- Insecure: “Is what they say true?”
- Angry: “I can’t believe someone would do this to me.”
- Silent: “I’m afraid that if I tell someone, it will only make it worse.”
- Personality traits can shift after prolonged exposure to negative reinforcement.
- e.- A personality that tends toward being more joyful will begin to experience periods of depression. They will begin to lose that “sunny-side” disposition.
- Seeks validation. Longs to be heard.
- Can become and agent later in life by:
- Becoming the bully or…
- Becoming walled-off
- Not letting anyone inside could become a sort of vindication
- “Never again will I allow someone to have that power over me.”
In both cases, we see several key similarities that will help us identify a solution. Both the agent and victim are seeking validation and longing to be heard. Both are also operating out of a “never again” mindset. Each side has experienced an incredible amount of pain which then leads to an active lifestyle of making sure they never feel it again. They will do whatever it takes to keep themselves away from the wounds of their yesterday.
An issue that could also arise out of bullying is Depression. The CDC (Center for Disease Control) reported that “students who experience bullying are at an increased risk for depression, anxiety, sleep difficulties, and poor school adjustments.” (2012)3 Being a recipient of bullying damages the psyche of a human being in that it shifts their mental self-image. They begin seeing themselves as worthless, pathetic, and weak. Such mindsets begin taking their toll, and if untreated, can lead to an even worse situation: Suicide.
The CDC took a survey of students in public and private high schools and reported these astounding statistics:
- 16% of surveyed students reported considering suicide
- 13% created a plan
- 8% tried to take their own life in the 12 months preceding the survey
“Suicide is the 2nd ranked cause of death for individuals 15-24.” (Drapeau & McIntosh 2015)4
“1 in 65,000 children commit suicide (age 10-14) each year.” (SAVE 2014)5
These are horrifying statistics. They represent a deep and urgent need. A deep and urgent need for Jesus.
What can we do to help?
We, as Christians, must absolutely begin with teaching our children and teenagers a proper understanding of who they are in Christ.
God, the Creator of the world, sent His only son, Jesus, to the Earth. Christ gave up His heavenly position to become in the manner of man. He walked this Earth for thirty-three years, was exposed to every emotion and temptation known to man (Heb. 4:15), yet was without sin (1 Peter 2:22). He proclaimed Himself as the Savior that the Jews had been longing for but they rejected Him. They violently murdered an innocent man but Christ did not go unwillingly. He offered himself up as a sacrifice for the sins of all mankind past, present, and future (I John 2:2).
Not only did He willingly go to the Cross for the salvation of undeserving mankind, He did not stay there. Three days after He was buried in the tomb, He victoriously burst from death into life, destroying the curse of sin and death; giving life to all of those who would put their faith in Him (Jn 3:16).
The beginning of healing for our children, teenagers, and students is a foundational understanding that they are corrupt sinners in the eyes of God and in need of His salvation. They can do nothing to save themselves (Eph. 2:1) and must repent of their sins and turn to Christ for life-giving salvation.
If they have already come to a saving knowledge of Christ, they must understand that the Gospel puts every single person on equal playing field. We are all sinners but we were also all made in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26). The Bible actively calls Christians to love like Christ and to lift one another up. The entire letter of I John is full of commands for Christians to love their brothers and sisters. Not only should they, and we, love our Christian siblings, but we must love the people of the “world” as Jesus did. This is vital and is non-negotiable.
We, as their parents, teachers, mentors, etc.…must be actively teaching and discipling our younger generation. This does not mean settling for one conversation a week if they come to church. That is not discipleship. It is not what Jesus had in mind when He issued a command to “Go, then, and make disciples of all nations…” (Matt. 28:19)
Jesus’ modeling of discipleship involved doing life with the other people. He took an active approach to those He was discipling. They followed him, they fellowshipped with Him, and He used common, everyday occurrences to teach them the ways of God. Our discipleship patterns should be no different.
Go to their sporting events. Take them to lunch. Pray for them. Mentor them. Be a listening ear. Be ready to preach the Gospel at any time; reminding them of who they are in Christ and how they should treat other people because of it.
If you are a youth pastor or a youth leader, educate yourself on issues such as these and don’t be afraid to speak out on it in youth meetings or from the pulpit. Train the parents of your youth group to notice the signs of bullying, depression, and/or suicide. Education is primary in this fight to save lives.
Even if you don’t believe in God, you can involve yourself in the lives of your children, family, and students around you. These principles ring out from the Bible but apply to all walks of life, regardless of your faith. Love is universal.
Another way that you can involve yourself in this fight is to become involved with school programs directly targeted at decreasing bullying. Whether it be through school counseling, after school programs, or even lunch visits, be willing to take that extra step. You truly don’t know the difference you can make by simply making yourself available.
The Gospel of Christ restores value to the human soul in that it seeks to place all of Creation back in its original place: Harmony with God. We have all been made in the image of God. We have all fallen short of God’s glory and deserve hell. But God, in His grace and mercy, reached down and pulled us out of the deepest, darkest pit of hell. If He went that far to save your, and my soul, be willing to be the same exact thing for someone else who needs it.
Be the change that you want to see in the world. Be Jesus.
You are loved.
You are valued.
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1 “Student Reports of Bullying and Cyber-Bullying: Results …” U.S Department of Education, n.d. Web. 13 Nov. 2016.
2 Zweig, Janine. “Technology, Teen Dating Violence and Abuse, and Bullying.” U.S. Department of Justice, n.d. Web. 13 Nov. 2016.
3 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016. Web. 13 Nov. 2016.
4 Drapeau, Christopher. “U.S.A. SUICIDE: 2013 OFFICIAL FINAL DATA.” American Association of Suicidology, n.d. Web. 13 Nov. 2016.
5 “SAVE | Suicide Prevention Information, Suicide, Depression Awareness.” SAVE. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Nov. 2016.