Jack and Jessica’s Story Offers Hope and Help Out from the Trenches
Real Life, Part One
Jennifer and her brother Jack were new in town, and in school. They had just moved another part of the country so their mother could start her new job. They had been home-schooled up until several weeks ago, when their parents had gotten a divorce. Their dad moved out and for some reason, and refused to help their mom pay for stuff.
It was the middle of the spring semester and Jennifer was a sophomore and Jack was in 7th grade. They almost tripped over boxes in their new apartment as they rushed to get in the car for their first day of school. They were already late!
As they pulled out of their driveway their mom asked them if they were worried about anything.
In unison, they both said “NO!”
They both lied. They didn’t want to stress their mom, but they were both really nervous.
“I’m afraid I’m gonna get bullied,” Jack whispered to Jennifer. “And you won’t be there to protect me. What if someone threatens to hit me or calls me a name or something?”
“Don’t be such a baby! You’ve got to learn to stand up for yourself! Don’t let people push you around, ever,” Jennifer snapped back.
They had both been home-schooled since they started school and had moved from a church and Pathfinder group that was small and really supportive. Now they both had to attend school—and public school at that, because they’re mom just didn’t have the money for the local SDA school.
As their mom dropped them off, Jack realized that both his middle-school and his sister’s high school were on the same campus. He thought to himself “at least maybe I’ll be able to see my sis during the day…I hope…”
Things were cool with Jack…as long as his older—and bigger—sister was right beside him, but the moment she went her way the bullying started immediately. He had people—mostly other guys—call him all types of ugly names about how he looked, what he wore—or didn’t wear—one guy even threatened to beat him up! They took his backpack and threw several of his books down the hall. No one helped him. Most people stopped and looked on, and some people even laughed at what was happening to him.
Jack was so overwhelmed with it all, he just hung his head and didn’t know what to say. His sister was a different story altogether. From the moment she walked in to school, several groups of girls looked her way, started whispering among themselves and laughed out loud. At lunchtime, she sat by herself and was approached by a girl named Celine. She seemed nice and genuinely interested in her. She noticed that Celine lived in the same neighborhood as her. Celine said she wanted to hang out sometime and asked for her cell number so they could hang out. As school ended and Jennifer was walking out of the school to wait for her mom, her cell phone rang and she noticed that she had several text messages and two IG notifications.
Her heart skipped a beat! She excitedly opened up her messages only to find hateful and mean things said about her. She couldn’t understand why someone would do something like this? These people just met her! As she came to sit beside her brother, she could tell that he’d had a hard day, so she tried to put her arm around him and talk to him, but he angrily pushed her away.
What’s the Problem?
Bullying and cyber-bullying are a serious problem that affects kids and teens. This can happen not just at school, but anywhere people get together. Bullying and cyber-bullying are never the fault of the person at the receiving end and if you see it happening—do something about it! It won’t stop if you ignore it.
“Overall, Black children appear to have increased rates of bullying and peer victimization,’ explains Katherine Williams, PhD, child and adolescent psychologist at Rady Children’s Hospital, San Diego and clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego. “When looking at a nationally represented sample of youth, Black youth reported higher rates of peer victimization than Latino and white children.”
Kirk Haley, Principal of Atlanta Adventist Academy (AAA), a private Christian high school, in Duluth, Georgia, knows that bullying is an unfortunate reality.
“AAA is a very diverse school and bullying affects all students of all races the same–which is in a very negative manner. The biggest issue in helping the students to be resilient is the upbringing that the parents have with them. It’s really important to a student that they feel that their parents are supportive of them.”
Other resources will include friends, parents, grandparents, a church, and family will help mitigate the negative effects of bullying in their life.
We ask our students to do their best every day. And when they don’t, this is a big hint that something is happening with them. When this happens, we look into it further and investigate.
“In our school and curriculum we take an active role in trying to combat bullying. We believe in educating our students about it. We have several different things that we offer to our students. We talk about this issue in Bible class; we also teach a ‘First Responders’ student safety class, where our students can learn to be student conflict managers and help to resolve conflicts, with the help of the Administration, our School Counselor, and teachers. We also address this issue in our health class.”
Haley recognizes that students are also fooled into changing what they believe by other students, and this can be something that they work on improving as well. He notes that they also want their students to have critical thinking and not just take someone’s opinion about something—which usually happens in some sort of way when bullying happens, typically one person or one group tries to sway someone else’s opinion about another person by using lies or bending the truth in some way. When this happens—and it will—they want students to learn to think critically and be discerning. Lastly, they have student mentoring, where an older, more experienced student can mentor a younger student. This helps all the students have a real sense of “buy-in” with their educational experience and cuts down on bullying.
Biblical Principles at Work
The Bible clearly describes Jesus:
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn” (Isaiah 61:1, 2, NIV).
Let’s take a closer look at what Jesus said. This is the first time He publicly and formally announced His ministry here on earth. His mission was fivefold:
1. Preach good news to the poor.
2. Proclaim freedom for the prisoners.
3. Give sight to the blind.
4. Release the oppressed.
5. Proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Social injustice should make us angry, and we should do something about it. Our love informs our interaction with those people in our sphere of influence who are poor, helpless, sick, imprisoned, or who aren’t in any position to help us or do something for us in return for our kind acts—this totally includes those who are not “popular,” different or being bullied.
We can’t expect just anyone to do something for them, because they’re typically too wrapped up in themselves. That’s who sinners are: they’re selfish. But Christians aren’t selfish—at least we’re not supposed to be!
You may not have access to somebody who is physically sick, or a widow, or an orphan, or someone in jail, but ask yourself this: whom has God placed within your circle of influence? Are there friends you could help? Is there some kind of homeless shelter you could volunteer at? Is there someone younger than you whom you could mentor? Is there someone older than you whom you could visit or help—or just call to check in on them? How about those students who aren’t that popular? Or those who are socially awkward and are bullied all the time? Is there something you can do?
Jesus said of Christians, “You are the light of the world.” But did you know that He also called us salt? In Matthew 5:13 Jesus said: “You are like salt for everyone on earth. But if salt no longer tastes like salt, how can it make food salty? All it is good for is to be thrown out and walked on.” What kind of salt are you? Do you taste like salt or just look like it? Are you the real thing? If you are, don’t wait to be thrown out because you’re no longer useful; it’s time for Christians to get out of the saltshaker and into the food!
What the World Says
Everybody agrees that bullying is a huge problem that must be stopped! They also agree that the best way for it to stop is for:
1. The person being bullied to be assertive and stand up for themselves.
2. People who are watching (bystanders) to get involved in a real way to stop it.
The world’s view of the problem differs from that of a Christian in that, generally, they view:
1. People as generally being good—all by themselves. Furthermore, the longer people are alive, the better they become. (Some refer to this as “Humanism.”) However, Christians believe in what God says: “. . . for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God . . .” (Romans 3:23, NIV) and that we were all born as sinners (Ps. 51:5; Romans 5:12) and without God, we will just become more and more evil (Romans 1:18-32), not better.
2. The power that people need to make positive, long lasting changes to their characters as coming solely from within themselves. This belief extends from a humanistic view of the world. However, as Christians we know that the only good that is within us comes—not from ourselves (remember, we are naturally sinful and evil)—but comes from God, through His Holy Spirit (Romans 8:5-8; Philippians 2:12-13).
What Can I Do?
1. Have the right attitude about others. Treat other people the way you would want to be treated. That means that you need to do something! Step in, stop it. Tell a trusted adult immediately! If you were being bullied, I hope that you would want someone to step in and help you out of that jam. Jesus said: “Treat others as you want them to treat you” (Matthew 7:12a, CEV).
2. The only way to actually help, is to actually help. You can’t just talk about getting involved; you’ve got to take action and make a positive change. Talking about loving others like you love yourself is only talk. Having the right attitude about others and loving them is great, but not if it doesn’t move you to take the next step and actually act! Jesus made this really clear in the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).
3. God doesn’t just want us to worship Him by the things we do for Him, but the things we do for others because we know Him. He wants us to worship Him by treating others with mercy and doing justice. “Will thousands of sheep or rivers of olive oil make God satisfied with me? Should I sacrifice to the Lord my first-born child as payment for my terrible sins? The Lord God has told us what is right and what he demands: ‘See that justice is done, let mercy be your first concern, and humbly obey your God’ ” (Micah 6:7-8, CEV).
So as a Christian teen, what part should you play in this whole complicated social dance?
Well, unfortunately, many times, teens who witness bullying do absolutely nothing. Now of course I’m not talking about hitting somebody who’s hitting somebody else. But Christians should stand up and speak up for those people who either can’t protect themselves, either because they don’t know how to, or are afraid to—no matter the reason, God tells Christians that it’s their responsibility. In Matthew 23:23 Jesus, after snapping on the religious leaders and putting them in their place about the stark difference between what they say and how they live their lives, Jesus says this to them
“You Pharisees and teachers are show-offs, and you’re in for trouble! You give God a tenth of the spices from your garden, such as mint, dill, and cumin. Yet you neglect the more important matters of the Law, such as justice, mercy, and faithfulness. These are the important things you should have done . . .” (CEV).
Bullying is a difficult thing to deal with and unfortunately, while we live in this sinful world with sinful, imperfect people, we’ll have to deal with this issue, but it doesn’t mean that we have to allow it to overpower and overcome us. As Christians, we can make up our minds to be connected to both God and others. We pay attention to what’s happening around us. We do something to make a positive difference in the lives of those who can’t do for themselves. In doing so, we end up making our little corner of the world better for everybody and we bring honor and credit to God.
It’s My Problem!
Helping others when they are being bullied is always great, but what if you’re the one being bullied? What can you do?
1. Have respect for others and treat them the way you want to be treated. Jesus wisely said “Treat others as you want them to treat you” (Matthew 7:12a, CEV)
2. Don’t respond to bullying with more bullying, it only makes things worse. Respond to meanness with kindness.
Jesus, when speaking about “turning the other cheek” in Matthew 5:28-48 went on to say
“‘You have heard people say, ‘Love your neighbors and hate your enemies.’ But I tell you to love your enemies and pray for anyone who mistreats you. If you love only those people who love you, will God reward you for that? Even tax collectors love their friends. If you greet only your friends, what’s so great about that? Don’t even unbelievers do that? But you must always act like your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-44, 46-47, CEV).
Also, the Apostle Paul wrote:
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:14-21, NIV).
Getting “payback” on somebody only lowers you to their level making you think and act like them. Don’t do it. The results are that you give them more power as you plan on how you’re going to get them back.
3. Be assertive and direct. Tell them to stop bullying and then immediately tell a trusted adult about what’s happening, how it started, what you did to try and stop it and then have faith that the adult will deal with it. Of course, you need to have a plan as to what you’re going to continue to do. Further, you need to continue being watchful and assertive whenever someone tries to bully you. Jesus didn’t die for you so that you could be someone’s carpet. Jesus is never OK with that!
4. Forgive them. I know that this may seem like a silly thing to say, but forgiveness isn’t something that you’re doing for the bully—you’re doing it for yourself and your soul. It’s highly likely that the bully doesn’t feel sorry for what they’ve done wrong, but that’s not the point; if you choose to not forgive them, then it’s like you’re being bullied by them—even when you’re actually not! That’s not what you want. Forgiveness is something you do for your spiritual and emotional health.
Real Life, Part Two
When their mom pulled up, they both got in the car, but she was on the phone finishing up a call. Jack turned to his sister and told her “sorry about that earlier, I just had the worst day ever! I was bullied the entire day! What do you think I should do?” His sister could tell that he was really shaken up by the bullying.
Jennifer playfully punched him on the arm and shared the news that she’d been bullied as well. This actually made Jack feel better as he thought to himself “Wow! I thought I was just uncool, but she got bullied too! Maybe it really has nothing to do with me at all.”
After mom got off the phone, she looked in the rear-view mirror to Jack and Jennifer and asked “so, how was ya’all’s . . .”
“I was bullied all day long!” Jack blurted before she could even finish. “But you know what mom? It’s not even my fault. It’s not my problem, in fact.”
Jack vowed to stand up for himself. He said he would let his homeroom teacher know what happened. Getting straight As was going to be hard enough without having someone riding him to control him all the time.
Mom immediately pulled over and turned the car off.
“What did you say? Did you just say that you’ve been bullied? I need to talk to the Principal today. I’m going to turn this car around right now!”
Jennifer started laughing out loud at her mom’s reaction and stated “mom, don’t be such a spaz! Jack can take care of himself! He’s got a great plan, and you know what? Today, I was bullied as well.”
Over the next 30 minutes, both she and her brother told her mom in detail what happened. And, after unloading on their mom, they both felt better.
“I’m surprised at how well both of you are taking this move and bullying! I won’t say anything to anybody, yet, but please just keep me posted. I will be praying for both of you and can’t wait to find out how tomorrow’s day at school goes.”
Jennifer and Jack stood up to their bullies. Jennifer’s bullying stopped after the first week but Jack’s homeroom teacher, mom and Principal ended up having to get involved and disciplining several of the students who were bullying Jack. Some of the other students called Jack a “snitch,” but he didn’t care. By the third week, he had three close friends (who had been bullied in the past by the same group of boys). They saw Jack stand up for himself and it gave them the courage to stand up for Jack and for themselves. They always hung out together—both in and out of school.
Several weeks after that, one of the boys who bullied Jack even apologized to him. Jack immediately forgave him, but decided that he’d rather wait a little bit to really see if the guy was legit. And true to his word, later on in the year, Jack saw a real change in the boy and even became his friend!
True to her word, the next day, Jennifer approached Celine and told her to stop bullying her and that she would block her and anybody else who sent her ugly messages. For another week she received ugly and disrespectful messages, but never responded and right as she was about to inform the Principal what was happening, all the messages stopped. Since then, Jennifer has made two very close friends and made a promise to herself not to give out her personal contact information until she really felt that she knew someone well enough. Celine, nor anybody else ever apologized to Jennifer, but she noticed that Celine and her friends always seemed to be involved in some sort of trouble and always seemed to have “drama” with somebody. Was she glad that she didn’t get involved in all of that. She realized exactly what her mother told her to be true: “hurt people, hurt people.” She was glad that although she and her brother had been hurt, they didn’t want to pass the hurt on, but wanted to let God use them to heal others.
1. Don’t Laugh at Me
3. The Wounded Spirit by Frank Peretti
4. Don’t Laugh at Me by Steve Seskin and Allen Shamblin
5. Stop Bullying website
6. The Bully Project
7. Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center
8. National Association of School Psychologists
9. Resources to Fight Bullying and Harassment at School
10. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Bullying Prevention Resources
11. Creating Bully Free Schools, Microcredentials
12. Films: “Bully” and “Cyberbully” are both good films to get discussion going.