Home Life by Bev and Phil Haas
My son has been bullied at middle school and now it’s happening at church. I’ve talked to other parents and learned that some of their children have been targeted by the same bully. I’ve brought it to the attention of our youth minister, but nothing has been done. Am I wrong to want the church to be less tolerant of this type of behavior and more tenacious in working toward a resolution?
Our unqualified answer is NO; you are not wrong in wanting this. Bullying is a big deal. It’s a problem that affects lots of kids. Over half of all students (56 percent) report personally seeing instances of bullying (stopbullying.gov). Under no circumstances should bullying be tolerated at your church. In a Christian environment, your son—and every other student—should feel safe. Unless it is confronted, bullying can turn your youth group into a place of fear. Bullying and harassment are destructive forces and have far reaching effects.
Pinpoint the Problem
Bullying occurs when people misuse their power with peers. It may include shunning, teasing, kicking, hitting, threatening, name-calling, gossiping, taunting, ganging up, beating up, leaving out, backbiting, texting, sexting, or any other form of cyber-bullying. This singling out behavior is likely to occur in any group of young people, especially in small spaces with a comparatively small number of adult leaders. Adults should expect to see even more of these problems where kids who have limited self-control and little experience managing their own power come together. Middle school is a prime place for bullying.
Become Solution Focused
The best way to stop bullying is for parents and church leaders to address the abusive behavior together. Go back to your youth minister to find out if anything has been done since you last brought up this situation. If nothing has been done, then consider taking one or two others with you and go back again as suggested in Matthew 18:16 and speak with your youth minister about the problem. Be specific about the problem and what you think needs to happen to resolve this situation with your son.
Keep in mind that consistent and compassionate adult leadership is crucial to preventing incidents of bullying behavior from happening and to stop problems from growing once they have occurred. Without intervention, the bullying behavior will become a regular part of the group’s way of interacting with each other and will most likely mushroom into a major problem. Adult supervision and boundaries are essential. Young people need calm adult guidance with clear and firm boundaries so that they learn there are consequences to their behavior. Once adults step in, the damaging behavior of the bully will stop and others will be safe. Your intervention will benefit not only your son, but every student. All kids in a group are worried they’ll be the next victim. So the best deterrent to prevent bullying is to have adequate adult supervision at all times. Of course, the adults supervising must be observant and willing to step in when needed.
More Adult Involvement
Maintaining an environment that is physically and emotionally safe is an adult responsibility. Children who hurt others require adult intervention. Research shows that bullying behavior in a peer group can be socially rewarded, and that leaving the problem to resolve itself is likely to result in bigger problems and more destructive behavior.
It’s important to determine when and where the bullying occurs. Then the youth minister can increase the adult supervision in these bullying hot spots. Involving more adults is priority number one. Most middle school students don’t handle free time well so it’s also important not to have gaps in the programming schedule where kids decide for themselves what to do.
Schools have taken a strong stand against bullying and under federal law are legally obligated to protect students from being harassed. Teachers have a legal obligation to report bullying whenever it occurs. As Christians, we have an even higher law—God’s law—that says we are to treat others the way we want to be treated (Matthew 7:12). Every student should feel safe at church. Tell your youth minister and keep talking until something is done.
Send your questions about family life to Phil and Bev Haas in care of The Lookout, 8805 Governor’s Hill Drive, Suite 400, Cincinnati, OH 45249, firstname.lastname@example.org. We regret that personal replies are not always possible. Phil and Bev Haas are involved in education and family ministry in Cincinnati, Ohio. They are the parents of two children, and they have one grandson.