What you need to know to prevent bullying in your ministry
Bullying can encompass a range of behaviors, but the overarching intent behind those behaviors is “to cause fear, distress, or harm that is either physical (hitting, punching), verbal (name calling, teasing), or psychological/relational (rumors, social exclusion).” For a more extensive description, visit the Centers for Disease Control fact sheet on bullying.
Bullying typically begins in early childhood, and how administrators and adult leaders handle it can set the course going forward for those who are affected. The wounds caused by bullying in childhood can have deep, lasting consequences. Some of the negative outcomes may include: “depression, anxiety, involvement in interpersonal violence or sexual violence, substance abuse, poor social functioning, and poor school performance, including lower grade point averages, standardized test scores, and poor attendance. Youth who report frequently bullying others and youth who report being frequently bullied are at increased risk for suicide-related behavior.”
Studies prove that even students that have just observed bullying (but not participated in it) will themselves experience higher rates of feeling helpless and less connected to responsible adults.
International experts recommend tackling the problem of bullying from multiple angles, which often include training teachers how to recognize bullying as early as elementary school, and training students to give them the social and coping skills necessary to navigate pressure from other students. It is also important that students learn to have empathy for each other, and treat each other with kindness.
Of course, those answers are deeply imbedded in how Jesus has called us to live as Christ-followers. One organization that is working to teach Christian life coping skills to prevent bullying is Children Reachout Uganda. Children Reachout Uganda is a nonprofit that focuses on empowering children who are living in urban communities with early childhood developmental education, education support, and educational life skills for students. Their vision is to see a transformed community of children living healthy lives and capable of handling life’s challenges, equipped with good morals, positive attitudes, and skills and strategies to contribute effectively to society. By developing skills and talents in the areas of sports, arts and life skills; and by encouraging cooperation and social integration, they believe they can reach generations of children and ultimately prevent issues like bullying.
In an annual event called the Children’s Gala for Hope, children in the community are invited to participate in a celebration of unity, peace, love and care. By sharing the message of Christ’s love and hope, they were able to reach 510 children, 50 teachers and 20 children’s leaders at their 2018 Gala.
The response to bullying may look different in each community affected by the crisis, but the basic messages and calling for Christians are the same. Psalm 34:12–18 gives us direction on all fronts — as one being bullied, as one who may be tempted to do the bullying, or as one witnessing the bullying.
“Does anyone want to live a life that is long and prosperous? Then keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from telling lies! Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it. The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right; his ears are open to their cries for help. But the Lord turns his face against those who do evil; he will erase their memory from the earth. The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.”
For more information on the Children’s Hope Gala, visit the Children Reachout Uganda facebook page. For more information on bullying statistics and prevention (from a secular viewpoint), visit the Center for Disease Control’s hub on violence prevention in youth.
WellConnected is an initiative of OneHope, and is a gathering place for children and youth ministers to access resources, research, and content to raise up the next generation. It’s a collaborative platform to equip leaders and influencers to effectively reach the kids in their communities. We invite churches and ministers to join one another in coming up with innovative solutions for today’s realities. We are continually learning and growing from each other — sharing knowledge, insight, and best practices.