From the seventh through the 12th grade, Josh dreaded going to school. Name-calling and cruel jokes from his peers undermined his self-esteem and his schoolwork. "It was impossible for me to learn," he says.

But Josh handled the daily bullying better than 15-year-old Greg Doucette. When the taunting from his classmates became unbearable, Greg hung himself from a basement rafter.

Every day, heartbreaking accounts of school-based bullying hit our newspapers. Such reports make us upset and concerned, yet most of us wonder what, if anything, we can do to help.

The hard facts

The facts about school-based bullying are shocking. About 85 per cent of arrested school shooters told the Secret Service that revenge against bullying, which in some cases lasted years, was the reason they brought a gun to school and murdered indiscriminately.

The American Psychological Association estimates that 90 per cent of fourth- through eighth-graders are targets of bullying. Approximately 160,000 students skip school each day due to bullying. The U.S. Department of Justice reports that about 85 per cent of bullying takes place in front of others, yet only 11 per cent of witnesses intervene.

Jesus told us we have a moral obligation to help those in need. So did the prophet Isaiah when he wrote, ‘‘Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed’’ (Isaiah 1:17). Teaching our children to help targets of bullying is pivotal to their moral education.

Stopping bullies

Bystanders have the greatest opportunity to reduce bullying. One study shows that when they do intervene, they succeed more than half the time.

Most bullies wouldn’t demean another if they didn’t have an audience to witness their target’s public display of pain. Bystanders unknowingly give bullies a power rush. It’s time to throw the switch to off.

Mark Galli, managing editor of Christianity Today, told me how in high school he stopped someone from beating up a kid.

Galli said forcefully, ‘‘Lay off!’’

‘‘What are you going to do, Galli?’’ the bully said.

‘‘I’m not going to fight you. I want you to stop it.’’

The bully stopped and left.

Most bullying is verbal, not physical, so simple and powerful words are often sufficient: "Stop it." "That’s wrong." "That’s cruel."

Teach your children to tell an authority figure when they see bullying, especially when it’s physical. Also encourage them to act in tandem. The power of two is found throughout the Bible. Jesus tapped into this dynamic when He sent His disciples out in pairs, not alone (Matthew 21:1; Mark 14:13).

A strategy for targets

When the target of bullying is your child, how can you respond? Telling him to "just ignore it" is a common mistake. He can no more ignore a bully at school than a parent can at work. Instead, he needs a wise game plan, and he needs to see you behave courageously.

Most bullies seek students who are timid and unassertive. Teach your child assertive but short responses: "That’s not true." "You’re wrong." "Whatever." He should avoid longer responses, which only encourage further attacks.

Teach him to give the impression that the bully’s approval doesn’t matter. Show him how to leave an area with confidence: shoulders back and without an emotional display.

Meet with school authorities if you have to, but make sure that you are firm, not attacking. Have your facts down and stick to them.

Do not confront the bully yourself. Remember, bullies want an emotional display – yours will work just fine. A parent who directly fights a child’s battles for him makes the child appear even weaker, causing him to become an even larger target.

Showing courage

My wife and I expect our three children to show courage, not cowardice, when a classmate is bullied. Distraught, our daughter told us one day how two girls were hurting a physically challenged classmate.

"What did you do?" I asked.

"I defended her," she said.

Three words have never made me more proud. Later, I had an opportunity to speak to her class. The teacher asked the class what they thought about my daughter. The girl she defended raised her hand and said, "I think Abby’s a good person." She said "good" with passion and thankfulness. That little girl saw a side of God’s protective nature that I doubt she had seen before.

Our character – and our ability to love – expand or shrink depending on the courage we possess, and that includes the courage to stand against bullying.


© 2007 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

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