Young People Ask . . .
How Can I Make Kids Stop Picking on Me?
The boy’s walk is a dead giveaway. Tense, unsure of himself, he is obviously bewildered by his new surroundings. The older students thus spot him as a new boy in school. Soon a group of girls quickly surround him to perform their “initiation rites,” assailing him with obscenities! Crimson from ear to ear, he flees to the nearest sanctuary—the rest room. Laughter echoes off the walls.
THE foregoing is a rather typical scene in many schools. Harassment, teasing and insulting are the cruel pastimes of many youths. Said one youth: “When the kids see you they start laughing and I feel like killing myself.”
Solomon once said: “There exists the one speaking thoughtlessly as with the stabs of a sword.” (Proverbs 12:18) Verbal abuse by a person’s peers can slice through self-confidence like a sharpened sword. And the effects can be long lasting. Recalls one man, ‘When I was in school, a lot of people laughed at me because I couldn’t talk plain. I became self-conscious and was afraid to talk in front of people.’ The ridicule he suffered affects him to this day.
‘How can I make them let me alone?’ a youth might therefore ask. Perhaps you should first consider why the teasing takes place.
Why They Do It
“Even in laughter the heart may be in pain,” says the Bible at Proverbs 14:13. Laughter erupts when a group of youths harass someone. But they are not ‘crying out joyfully because of the good condition of the heart.’ (Isaiah 65:14) Often the laughter is a mere camouflage of inner turmoil. Behind the bravado, the tormentors might really be saying: ‘We don’t like ourselves, but putting someone down makes us feel better.’
One teacher, Edward C. Martin, recalls a situation where “for two weeks a group of girls were harassing another girl in and out of classes.” The victim “was literally terrified.” Martin concluded: “For the group of antagonists, this aggressiveness was a source of unity and camaraderie. They relished the times of confrontation and the times of subtle teasing. Individuals took pride and received group praise devising more exciting methods of taunting their foe.” A youth named Shelley who participated in such teasing similarly concluded: “We thought it was the ‘in’ thing to do . . . It gave you a sort of intimacy feeling, you know. As if you belonged.”
Jealousy also prompts the attacks. The Bible tells of a teenager named Joseph whose own brothers turned on him, simply because he was his father’s favorite. Intense jealousy led not only to verbal abuse but even to the contemplation of murder! (Genesis 37:4, 11, 20) Likewise today, a student who is exceptionally bright or well liked by the teachers may arouse the jealousy of his peers. Insults ‘cut him down to size.’
Insecurity, jealousy and low self-esteem are thus often the reasons for ridicule. Why, then, should you let loose your self-esteem because some insecure youth has lost his?
Halting the Harassment
“Happy is the man that . . . in the seat of ridiculers has not sat,” says the psalmist. (Psalm 1:1) Joining in the ridicule so as to deflect the attention from yourself just prolongs the insult cycle.
Solomon though, gives some useful suggestions. “Do not hurry yourself in your spirit to become offended, for the taking of offense is what rests in the bosom of the stupid ones.”—Ecclesiastes 7:9.
Yes, why should you take teasing so seriously? After all, often no malice is really intended. So if someone innocently—or even perhaps not so innocently—teases you and touches upon some sore spot of yours, why be crushed? If what is said is not obscene, try to see the humor in it. There is “a time to laugh,” and taking offense at playful teasing may be an overreaction.—Ecclesiastes 3:4.
But what if the teasing is not playful? Maybe in gym class or in the locker room someone sarcastically pokes fun at your physique. Or perhaps you are a girl battling acne and someone finds amusement in your blemishes. Displaying a sense of humor may be easier said than done, for it is a natural reaction to become defensive in the face of criticism. Dr. Manuel J. Smith therefore says: “I instruct [people] not to deny any criticism (that’s simply responding in kind), not to get defensive, and not to counterattack.” Yes, the ridiculer wants to enjoy your reaction, to revel in your misery. Lashing back, becoming defensive, or bursting into tears is likely to encourage him or her to keep up the harassment.
Author Kathleen McCoy tells of a teenage girl named Carol who was hassled constantly because of being tall and overweight. Carol’s mother asked: “Since you can’t directly change someone else’s behavior, can you think of some things you can do to keep people off your back?” Her answer: “Not give them the satisfaction of seeing me get upset?” Other youths have similarly fended off insults by nonchalantly ignoring them.
King Solomon further says: “Also, do not give your heart to all the words that people may speak [”Don’t pay attention to everything people say”—Today’s English Version], that you may not hear your servant calling down evil upon you. For your own heart well knows even many times that you, even you, have called down evil upon others.” (Ecclesiastes 7:21, 22) To “give your heart” to the caustic remarks of the ridiculers would mean to be overly concerned about their judgment of you. Is their judgment valid? The apostle Paul was unfairly attacked by jealous peers, but he replied: “Now to me it is a very trivial matter that I should be examined by you or by a human tribunal . . . he that examines me is Jehovah.” (1 Corinthians 4:3, 4) Paul’s relationship with God was so strong that he had the self-confidence and self-esteem to withstand unfair attacks.
Enduring “Contrary Talk”
At times you may be mocked because of your way of life as a Christian. Jesus Christ himself had to endure such “contrary talk.” (Hebrews 12:3) But though this included vicious and humiliating insults, Jesus never returned insult for insult. (1 Peter 2:22, 23) He practiced the very advice he preached in the Sermon on the Mount, namely, to ‘turn the other cheek.’—Matthew 5:38-42.
You, too, may have to endure and ignore ridicule. Do not, however, invite hostility by constantly criticizing others or by giving others the impression that you feel that you are superior. As opportunity arises to share your faith, do so, but do it with “a mild temper and deep respect.” (1 Peter 3:15) Your reputation for fine conduct may prove to be your greatest protection while you are in school. Though others may not like your courageous stand, they will often begrudgingly respect you for it.
A Christian girl named Vanessa was harassed by a group of girls who would hit her, push her around, knock books out of her hands—all in an attempt to provoke a fight. They even poured a chocolate milk shake over her head and clean white dress. Yet she never gave in to the provocation. Months later, however, Vanessa met the group’s ringleader at a convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses! “I hated your guts,” the former bully said. “I wanted to see you lose your cool just once.” However, her curiosity about how Vanessa maintained her composure led to her accepting a study of the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. “I fell in love with what I learned,” she continued, “and tomorrow I’m getting baptized.”
So do not let “contrary talk” break your spirit. Where appropriate, show a sense of humor. Respond to evil with kindness. Refuse to feed the fires of contention, and in time your tormentors will find little pleasure in targeting you for ridicule. For “where there is no wood the fire goes out.”—Proverbs 26:20.
[Picture on page 22]
The ridiculer wants to revel in your misery. Lashing back or bursting into tears might even encourage further harassment
[Picture on page 23]
In many cases the best way to fend off verbal attacks is to ignore them