Bullying is one of those things we're always hearing about. Children get bullied at school. They're bullied online. They're bullied at the playground, or on the bus. Even adults find themselves in situations of being bullied. They're bullied at work. They're bullied by a spouse at home.
What is bullying, exactly?
It isn't just physical harm - although, it can definitely take this form. It's also verbal. It's calling another person names on a regular basis. It's excluding another person. It's making a person feel unworthy. It's intentionally hurting another person's feelings.
What is it not?
It is not simply kids being kids. This was the thing I heard the other day that simply made me very sad.
"What am I supposed to do? I can't stop kids from doing what kids do."
This was said by a youth group leader, in regards to bullying happening by youth group members, but not during youth group events.
What is a Christian youth group?
I've seen youth groups that are more Bible study groups. I've seen some which are basically just good-time groups. I've seen some very focused on service to others. I think there is value in each of these kinds of groups. I think it would be even more beneficial for kids to have some combination of all of this.
But regardless of the type of group it is, a Christian youth group should be a place where children feel safe. They shouldn't fear voicing their faith. They shouldn't fear sharing their opinions. They shouldn't fear sharing their troubles and fears. And they most definitely shouldn't fear being excluded or bullied by fellow members - within or outside the walls of the group.
And as leaders of these youth - whether as official youth group leaders, or just as parents of teenagers - we should not be dismissive of bullying behavior. And we should be focusing on making sure our children have a group of peers they can turn to for sharing their faith, hopes, pains and fears.
Are We Failing Our Kids?
Many teens/young adults today are lost. They don't know where to turn when life gets ugly. They don't have that safety net - and part of this is because we are failing as parents and leaders.
We are so concerned with our children being socially accepted, that we don't prepare them for what happens when they aren't socially accepted; and we don't teach them what to do when someone else isn't socially accepted. We don't try to provide them with strong values. A good Christian upbringing doesn't just mean dragging our children to Church and Sunday School and Confirmation classes. It should be about teaching them to always reach out to those in need. It should be about teaching them to reach out to the marginalized... to always include people... to always be kind and show love, regardless of where you are.
Instead, once they're not in our home or our Church, we rid ourselves of the responsibility. We dismiss the concept that perhaps these children are being bullied. Or that they are the bullies. We just write it off as "kids being kids." We don't realize until it's too late that one of these children is suicidal, or depressed, or cutting him/herself, or starving him/herself, or doing drugs or drinking. We don't realize until it's too late that we have failed to provide a safety net for these children.We don't realize until it's too late that some of these children are causing harm to others, and that we haven't taught them how to be a safety net for each other.
Please Pray for the Bullied and the Bullies (and all the rest of the children...)
Our children are in serious need of prayer. Pray the bullied are able to find strength, and find a safety net of peers whom are accepting. Pray the bullies find the love and acceptance they strive so hard to find and keep. Pray for parents and leaders to stop dismissing bullying as just kids being kids. Pray we find the strength and wisdom to reach out to these children in love, and show them how to be a net for one another. Pray all these children find some peace.