Young People Ask . . .
Why Won’t the Kids Let Me Alone?
“WHAT bothers you the most?” This question was posed to 160,000 American teenagers, 30 percent of whom answered, “School”! If you are of school age, this response is probably no surprise to you.
But is it always nervousness about grades that upsets a youth at the very thought of school? A New York City high school student named Michael spoke for many when he said: “The biggest pressure a student has to face is not from teachers, not grades. It’s pressure from other kids.”
Yes, peer pressure has influenced many young people to loathe school. And although statistics are hard to come by, one teacher wrote: “The case of a student staying home, being ill, or skipping a class because he fears some group of students is more common than most adults imagine.”
Indications are that even the very young are afflicted by peer cruelty. When a group of fourth graders (nine to ten years old) in four different elementary schools were questioned, roughly half indicated that fellow students said things that hurt their feelings. Asked, “If you made a mistake while reciting would some children laugh at you?” over half said, “Yes.” And the pattern of misery often continues well into high school. As one teenage youth so bluntly put it: “I tell you, kids can treat kids like dirt.”
“Was I Not Having Fun?”
Kids, though, are not the only ones who find sadistic delight in teasing and harassing others. Nor is this a uniquely 20th-century phenomenon, for fallen man’s ‘mean streak’ was observable even in Bible times. Proverbs 26:18, 19, for example, describes a “man that has tricked his fellowman,” perhaps in the form of a cruel practical joke. “Was I not having fun?” the trickster asks. Nevertheless, the proverb compares the man performing the ‘trickery’ to “someone mad that is shooting fiery missiles, arrows and death.” Any new student who has been the target of hazing by older students can vouch for the accuracy of this scripture. The emotional—and at times physical—harm such “fun” causes can be devastating.
The Bible also tells of an incident where a group of youths harassed the prophet Elisha. Showing contempt for his office, the youths cried out with great disrespect: “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” (2 Kings 2:23-25) Likewise today, many youths seem to have a real knack for making insulting and hurtful remarks.
“I was the runt of my ninth-grade class,” recalls Frederick McCarty, one of the authors of Growing Pains in the Classroom. “Because I was very small I got beat up all the time. . . . I was also very bright. . . . So being the smartest kid and the shortest kid in the room was a disaster combination for junior high: those who didn’t want to hit me for being a runt hit me for being a smart guy. In addition to ‘four eyes,’ I was called ‘a walking dictionary,’ and 800 other epithets. I went through many pairs of glasses in junior high school because a succession of bullies used to break them.”
Another man, named John, similarly recalls the teasing he got because he was not strong enough to compete in gym class: “The other boys razzed me constantly, calling me a sissy and a mama’s boy. . . . It was sheer misery.” This author of The Loneliness of Children adds: “Children with physical handicaps, speech problems, or obvious physical or behavioral peculiarities are ready targets for teasing by other children.” Of course, the insulting is not always one-sided. In some areas, youths indulge in a cruel contest of firing increasingly hurtful insults at one another, often about one another’s parents, just for “fun.”
No Laughing Matter
Are such insult sprees really “fun,” though? Not to those on the receiving end. Says a youth named Miguel, for example: “There are a lot of verbal conflicts that come about, and they’re a lot more painful than getting hit, because they attack your weak points. . . . It hurts to have somebody talk about somebody very close to you, . . . and that happens a lot, especially in my school, because everybody [insults] each other. A lot of times it’s for fun, but sometimes you get into very serious verbal . . . [and] physical fights.”
Another youth similarly recalled that because of teasing and harassment by fellow classmates ‘some days he was so scared and unhappy that he thought he would vomit. He couldn’t concentrate on his studies for worrying about what the other students would do to him.’
Have you been the butt of such cruelty? Then you may be comforted to know that God, too, does not view it as a laughing matter. The disrespectful youths who taunted God’s prophet Elisha paid for their “fun” with their lives!—2 Kings 2:24.
Another Bible event similarly shows how seriously God views such conduct. This was when a feast was arranged to celebrate the weaning of Abraham’s son, Isaac. No doubt jealous of the inheritance Isaac would receive, Abraham’s older son, Ishmael, began “poking fun” at Isaac. Harmless childish behavior? Not to Sarah, who saw that Jehovah’s will and purpose were involved. Serious issues were at stake here, since the promised “Seed,” or Messiah, was to come through her son, Isaac. Ishmael’s “poking fun” was later even called ‘persecution’ by the Bible-writer Paul! It therefore resulted in the dismissal of Ishmael and his mother from Abraham’s household.—Genesis 21:8-14; Galatians 4:29.
Especially is it not a laughing matter when youths harass or poke fun at you because you endeavor to live by Bible standards. Christian youths, for example, take seriously Jesus’ command to share the message of God’s Word with their neighbors. And how do their schoolmates often react? Said one group of youths who are Jehovah’s Witnesses: “The kids in school think we’re stupid because we preach from door to door, and they put us down for it.”
Letting Your Light Shine
It is understandable then that some youths dread school because of this peer pressure. Nevertheless, getting the kids to let you alone may not be easy. So, said one youth, ‘I attack back.’ But this is not the course the Bible recommends. “Return evil for evil to no one. . . . Keep conquering the evil with the good,” is godly advice.—Romans 12:17-21.
This may mean enduring harsh insults. But remember that many faithful worshipers of God in the past “received their trial by mockings.” (Hebrews 11:36) Jeremiah, for example, “became an object of laughter all day long” because of boldly speaking Jehovah’s message. So persistent was the harassment, that Jeremiah temporarily lost his incentive. “I am not going to make mention of him [Jehovah], and I shall speak no more in his name,” he decided. However, his love for God and truth eventually overpowered his fear.—Jeremiah 20:7-9.
Some Christian youths today have similarly felt discouraged. Anxious to make the teasing stop, some have even tried to conceal the fact that they are Christians. But love for God often moves such ones to overcome their fear and to ‘let their light shine’ as Christians. (Matthew 5:16) One teenage boy, for example, said: “My attitude changed. I stopped viewing being a Christian as a burden to carry around and began to view it as something to be proud of.” You, too, can “boast” in the privilege of knowing God and of being used by him to help others.—1 Corinthians 1:31.
Of course, this may not necessarily end the ridicule. Whether one is tall or short, beautiful or plain, brilliant or mediocre—youths often have a way of finding excuses to tease and harass. But why are youths so cruel to one another? Are there effective ways to deal with the teasing—perhaps even stop it? A future issue will attempt to answer these questions.
[Picture on page 21]
At times one is teased because of some difference