Why Won’t the Kids Leave Me Alone?
The boy’s walk is a dead giveaway. Tense and unsure of himself, he is obviously bewildered by his new surroundings. The older students immediately spot him as a new kid in school. Within moments he is surrounded by youths who begin assailing him with obscenities! Crimson from ear to ear, he flees to the nearest sanctuary—the rest room. Laughter echoes off the walls.
HARASSING, teasing, and insulting others are the cruel pastimes of many young ones. Even in Bible times, some youths manifested a mean streak. For example, a group of young boys once harassed the prophet Elisha. Showing contempt for his office, the youths disrespectfully cried out: “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” (2 Kings 2:23-25) Today, many youths are similarly inclined to make insulting, hurtful remarks about others.
“I was the runt of my ninth-grade class,” recalls one of the authors of Growing Pains in the Classroom. “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 [abusive words].” The 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.”
Sometimes youths defend themselves by joining in what amounts to a cruel contest: firing increasingly hurtful insults (often regarding the other’s parents) at one another. But many youths are defenseless in the face of peer harassment. One youth recalls that some days, because of teasing and harassment by fellow classmates, 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.
No Laughing Matter
Have you been the butt of peer cruelty? Then you may be comforted to know that God does not view it as a laughing matter. Consider the Bible account of a feast that was arranged to celebrate the weaning of Abraham’s son Isaac. Apparently jealous of the inheritance Isaac would receive, Abraham’s older son, Ishmael, began “poking fun” at Isaac. Far from being good-natured fun, however, the teasing amounted to ‘persecution.’ (Galatians 4:29) Isaac’s mother, Sarah, thus sensed hostility in the teasing. She saw it as an affront to Jehovah’s purpose to produce a “seed,” or Messiah, through her son, Isaac. At Sarah’s request, Ishmael and his mother were dismissed from Abraham’s household.—Genesis 21:8-14.
Similarly, it is no laughing matter when youths maliciously harass you—especially when they do so because you endeavor to live by Bible standards. Christian youths, for example, are known for sharing their faith with others. But, as one group of young witnesses of Jehovah said: “The kids in school make fun of us because we preach from door to door, and they put us down for it.” Yes, like faithful servants of God in ancient times, many Christian youths receive a “trial by mockings.” (Hebrews 11:36) They are to be commended for their courage in enduring such reproaches!
Why They Do It
Nevertheless, you may wonder how to make your tormentors leave you alone. First, consider why the teasing takes place. “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.’
Jealousy also prompts the attacks. Recall the Bible’s account of the teenager Joseph, whose own brothers turned on him 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 seem to ‘cut him down to size.’
Insecurity, jealousy, and low self-esteem are thus often the reasons for ridicule. Why, then, should you lose 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 in order to deflect the attention from yourself just prolongs the insult cycle. “Return evil for evil to no one. . . . Keep conquering the evil with the good” is godly advice.—Romans 12:17-21.
Ecclesiastes 7:9 further says: “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.” Yes, why should you take teasing so seriously? Granted, it hurts if someone pokes fun at your physique or finds amusement in your facial blemishes. Nevertheless, the remarks, tasteless though they may be, are not necessarily malicious. So if someone innocently—or even perhaps not so innocently—touches upon some sore spot of yours, why be crushed? If what is said is not obscene or irreverent, 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 cruel or even vicious? Remember that 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. Why give that one the satisfaction of seeing you get upset? The best way to fend off insults is often nonchalantly to ignore them.
King Solomon further said: “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 confidence and inward strength to withstand unfair attacks.
Letting Your Light Shine
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) Jeremiah too “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 impelled him to overcome his fear.—Jeremiah 20:7-9.
Some Christian youths today have similarly felt discouraged. Anxious to make the teasing stop, some have tried to conceal the fact that they are Christians. But love for God often finally moves such ones to overcome their fear and to ‘let their light shine’! (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.
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 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 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. Sometime later, Vanessa met the group’s ringleader at a convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses! “I hated you . . . ,” 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” by peers break your spirit. When appropriate, show a sense of humor. Respond to evil with kindness. Refuse to feed the fires of contention, and in time your tormentors may find little pleasure in targeting you for ridicule, for “where there is no wood the fire goes out.”—Proverbs 26:20.
Questions for Discussion
◻ How does God view those who cruelly tease others?
◻ What is often behind youthful harassment?
◻ How can you minimize or even halt the ridicule?
◻ Why is it important that you “let your light shine” in school, even when others tease you?
◻ What steps can you take to protect yourself from violence at school?
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Behind the bravado, the tormentors might really be saying: ‘We don’t like ourselves, but putting someone down makes us feel better’
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How Can I Avoid Getting Beaten Up?
‘You take your life in your hands when you come to school.’ So say many students. But carrying a weapon is foolish and invites trouble. (Proverbs 11:27) How, then, can you protect yourself?
Know and avoid danger spots. Hallways, stairwells, and locker rooms are real trouble spots in some schools. And so notorious are rest rooms as gathering places for fights and drug usage that many youths would rather suffer discomfort than use these facilities.
Watch your associations. Often a youth finds himself in the middle of a fight simply because he associates with the wrong crowd. (See Proverbs 22:24, 25.) Of course, giving the cold shoulder to your schoolmates could alienate them or make them hostile toward you. If you are friendly and polite to them, they may be more inclined to leave you alone.
Walk away from fights. Avoid “forcing one another to a showdown.” (Galatians 5:26, footnote) Even if you come off the victor in a fight, your opponent may simply bide his or her time for a rematch. So first try talking your way out of a fight. (Proverbs 15:1) If talking doesn’t work, walk—or even run—away from a violent confrontation. Remember, “A live dog is better off than a dead lion.” (Ecclesiastes 9:4) As a last resort, take whatever reasonable means are necessary to protect and defend yourself.—Romans 12:18.
Talk to your parents. Youths “seldom report their school terrors to their parents, for fear the parents will think them cowardly or chide them for not standing up to the bullies.” (The Loneliness of Children) Often, though, a parent’s intervention is the only way to stop the trouble.
Pray to God. God does not guarantee you will be spared physical harm. But he can give you the courage to face confrontations and the wisdom needed to cool off the situation.—James 1:5.
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Many youths are the victims of harassment by peers
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The ridiculer wants to revel in your misery. Lashing back or bursting into tears might even encourage further harassment
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Try displaying a sense of humor when being teased