Young People Ask . . .
What Can I Do About School Bullies?
RYAN used to attend a small country school where violence was unheard of. But then he was transferred to a larger and tougher high school—and soon became the target of school bullies. Ryan relates: ‘The 15-minute bus ride became a torture that seemed to last for hours as my tormentors progressed from verbal abuse to physical mistreatment. They twisted a paper clip into a swastika, heated it red-hot with a cigarette lighter, and then sneaked up and branded me with it on the hand. I broke down and cried.’
Elizabeth finished school several years ago. But tears still come to her eyes when she recalls her school days. “I looked different from the other children,” she explains, “because my mother is of another race. So from the second grade up through high school, I was constantly teased and rejected. There seemed to be an ‘I Hate Elizabeth’ club, and even in the later years, I avoided going to the school rest rooms so as not to become the object of certain other girls’ threats to put their enemies’ heads in the toilet. I figured I was a prime candidate.”
School terror is the daily experience of a frighteningly large percentage of school-age youths who regularly receive oral and written threats, are harassed in locker rooms, intimidated into regularly giving up their lunch money—even pressured into having sexual relations—by school bullies.* And if you are one of the victims, this may be such a huge problem in your life that you can concentrate on nothing else! Happily, something can be done about it! But first you must understand the problem.
What Makes a Bully?
Researchers generally agree that no one is born a bully. “A bully at school is a victim at home,” claims psychologist Nathaniel Floyd. The bully may thus be passing on the mistreatment he receives at home.—Compare Ecclesiastes 7:7.
Other experts cite “watching too much violence on television” and “too little love and care and too much freedom in childhood” as other contributing factors. Even normally unaggressive youths are sometimes drawn into bullying out of a desire to be part of a group or to deflect attention from themselves.
Profile of a Victim
Anything that is considered different, such as an odd physical feature or flaw, or simply being new to a school, can incite a bully’s attack. However, one trait in particular is found in many victims of bullies. Elizabeth, quoted earlier, points to it: “I always cried very easily, so that others could tell right away that I was hurt or afraid.”
Parents magazine listed the following characteristics common to victims of bullies: “anxiety, shyness, cautiousness, sensitivity, low self-esteem,” and a “tendency to cry or flee when attacked”! (Italics ours.) No, victims are not to blame for their suffering. Nevertheless, knowing that bullies are attracted to helplessness can help you handle them.
Assertive, Not Aggressive
First, do not be tempted into striking back at a bully. Not only is ‘returning evil for evil’ wrong but it could get you into trouble that you don’t deserve, and it may simply intensify the problem. (Romans 12:17) But while being aggressive is unwise, being assertive may prove helpful. “By simply telling the bully to stop,” recommended Parents magazine, “explaining that he doesn’t like what the bully is doing, and then walking away, the victim substantially decreases his chances of being bullied in the future.” Or as one psychologist put it, ‘take a stand and leave with dignity.’
Another approach (at an appropriate time and place) is to attempt to reason calmly with the bully. ‘Reason—with him?’ you might ask. Yes, it is possible that there has been some misunderstanding on his part, that you have unwittingly done something to arouse his resentment of you. At the very least, approaching the bully calmly and courageously will send out the message that you refuse to be a helpless victim. Explains Dr. Kenneth Dodge: “Bullies are looking for passive acceptance, for tears. The child who doesn’t respond as desired is not likely to be chosen as a target again.” Well does the proverb say: “Trembling at men is what lays a snare.”—Proverbs 29:25.
Tell Your Parents!
What if the bullying doesn’t cease? Educators and researchers overwhelmingly agree that you need to tell your parents about the problem. True, you may feel that your parents will not understand. And you may have been threatened with even worse treatment if you tell on the bully. But your parents have the right to know what’s happening to you in school, do they not?
This does not necessarily mean that your parents should speak directly with the bully. But they can give you encouragement and thus build your sagging self-confidence and conviction to live by godly principles. They can also give you practical advice. They might, for example, suggest that you speak to a school official about the bullying. Schoolteacher Gerald Hoff suggests: “Try going first to the guidance counselor, especially when you have the backing of your parents, but without letting other students know you are doing so, if possible. The counselor is trained to know how to talk nicely to the bully, but if the matter gets worse, it is his duty to notify the principal.”
Sometimes parents decide to speak to school officials on your behalf. Understandably, you may be reluctant to have them intervene in this way. Ryan, mentioned at the outset, recalls: “I begged my mom and dad not to get involved because I feared gang action against me, and also I hoped each day things were going to get better.” But after the branding incident, his father insisted on contacting the school authorities. The result? Discreet steps were taken on his behalf. “Without implicating me any more than necessary,” recalls Ryan, “strict seating assignments were made, and the offending students were watched closely.”
If relief still does not come, your parents can decide if sterner measures must be taken against the offender.
It is best, though, to avoid being harassed in the first place. How? For one thing, simply being conversational with others in and out of class can help to dispel the loner image to which bullies seem drawn. Being friendly with teachers and bus drivers, even giving them just a smile and a pleasant hello, likely will afford you more of their favorable attention, hence a measure of protection. You can also try to avoid times or places where trouble is liable to occur.—Proverbs 22:3.
Work on displaying a more relaxed and poised bearing. This too will make you less of a target for bullies. The Bible says: “God gave us not a spirit of cowardice, but that of power and of love and of soundness of mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7) You can strengthen that confident spirit by meditating on this fact: “If anyone loves God, this one is known by him.” (1 Corinthians 8:3) Knowing that God is aware of your problem and really cares can do much to help you cope with it.
Recalls Ryan: “I did a lot of praying during all of this, and I feel closer to Jehovah as a result. I’ve gained more self-control. More than anything else, I’ve gained more faith in Jehovah when he says he ‘will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.’” (1 Corinthians 10:13) God can help you too to deal with your problems—even one as troublesome as a cowardly bully.
In one study, 25 percent of U.S. junior high school students listed “bullies and disruptive behavior” as their chief worry. In Great Britain and West Germany, educators have likewise expressed concern that bullying has increased in incidence and severity.
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Bullies delight in picking on smaller, weaker opponents
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If the situation is too much for you to handle, confide in your parents