by Rev. Laura Barclay
Last week, a study published from Clemson University showed that one in six school children have experienced bullying. Many respondents felt that teachers had done little or nothing to stop it. The study also showed that as children get older, they are more inclined to engage in bullying. In the wake of the teen suicides of Tyler Clementi, Billy Lucas, Seth Walsh, Asher Brown, and others because of anti-gay bullying, I think it is important to reflect on what our children might be subjected to in our schools and become part of the solution.
In the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, teens have started a chapter of the Interfaith Youth Core and chose bullying months ago as the single issue on which they wanted to act. Many of these children told their stories at a C.H.A.N.G.E. assembly in April comprised of 54 faith communities and neighborhood associations. I was shocked by what these children had experienced. One Jewish girl told a story about swastikas being drawn on her desk and money being thrown at her feet, and a Jewish boy said a group of guys asked him why he was at “their school,” saying, “I thought you all died during the Holocaust.” A Muslim boy told a story about being called a “terror baby,” while a Catholic boy shared that he and his friends were called “gay” during the accusations of sexual misconduct among some priests. One Latino Christian described his fear of succeeding in class, saying that the gangs would bully him for being a nerd if they knew how smart he was. From sexual harassment to racial discrimination, it was truly heart wrenching to hear the stories of our youth. In a group of Muslim, Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and Unitarian youth, every single child had, at the very least, witnessed some form of bullying or discrimination in their school.
According to a report compiled by the US Department of Justice from worldwide studies, Australian researchers discovered that children who were victims of weekly bullying “experienced poorer health, more frequently contemplated suicide, and suffered from depression, social dysfunction, anxiety, and insomnia.” When they grew up, they had an increased likelihood of having children who would be subjected to bullying (pg 12). It’s a problem that has long-lasting effects.
So, what can and should we do? First, we need to become more educated about what our children face in their schools (check links below to start). Second, find out what you can do to stand with those who are bullied. To show immediate support, many celebrities, political figures, and regular folks like you and me have been making short videos and posting them to YouTube to say that “it gets better,” both as you get older and as time progresses and views change about gender, race, and sexuality. Parents can work to be more engaged in the schools, listening to their children and reading between the lines. Teachers can respond and stop the bullying when it starts. Churches and their members can mentor schools and students, and be safe havens for children and teens who are being bullied and contemplating suicide.
Each of us is a child of God, made in God’s image and deserving of love and respect. Gen 1:27-31 states, “God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them…God saw everything that he had made, and indeed it was very good.” We can and should show our children that their lives are precious, and that their potential is great. Jesus tells us not to be “a stumbling block before one of these little ones” and to “become humble like this child” in order to be “the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (NRSV, Matthew 18). Let us commit to love, stand with, and speak out for these children in Jesus’ example. That these kids can’t see tomorrow for all the pain of today is a tragedy we shouldn’t be willing to let continue.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Bullying Initiative: http://www.stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov/kids/
The National Center for Bullying Prevention: http://pacer.org/bullying/
Stomp Out Bullying: http://stompoutbullying.org/