More and more frequently we read about children taking their own lives, having reached a place where they would rather be dead, than live another hour suffering from bullying. Too often parents and teachers have ignored the problem of bullying, dismissing it as nothing more than “kids will be kids”, and “kids can be cruel”.
The truth is that children, from the earliest of age, can be taught to treat other children with kindness, and encouraged to be sensitive to the plight of other children. The youngest can be taught the importance of sharing their toys, and of including other children in their neighborhood games. Even the smallest child can be taught to treat others as he wishes to be treated, and to report incidences of bullying to his teachers and parents, when he sees it happening to other children.
I believe part of the problem may be, at root level, teachers who were bullying others when they were children, and, transferring that childhood experience into how they perceive some of the children under their care. It is only human to have favorites, and teachers are no exception.
When I taught high school, I had my personal favorites. These were high school students who were bright, challenging, and a joy to teach. Juxtaposed to these young people were students who were perhaps slow learners, less attractive, and, in a nut shell, a pain to deal with. Yet, I also knew that each one of them had potential that needed to be encouraged, and that anyone of them could be a late bloomer, and could, with help and attention, succeed beyond any one’s expectation.
I also, as a teacher, never put up with bullying of any sort. First sign of bullying, I would take the bully aside, and make it perfectly clear that this was behavior that would not be tolerated. I remember to this very day a middle school teacher who bullied me, and because this was done in front of my classmates, he encouraged children to bully me, as well. I suffered from dyslexia during a time when little was known about this learning disability, so, like other dyslexics, I was a poor student. My own struggle to compensate made me a public speaker who rarely needed a manuscript, and this translated into my becoming a champion high school and college debater.
Because I also grew tall (6″1″) in a very short period of time, I was uncoordinated as a junior and senior high school student, so was poor in sports. It was not until college that I actually discovered athletic abilities that had previously remained dormant, and took up weight lifting, long distance running, baseball, and volleyball. As a high school teacher, I led the faculty in winning, for the very first time, the traditional volleyball game against the senior class, much to the delight of the underclassmen.
My own youthful struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts, revolving around my perceived failures, and my sense of hopelessness, was offset by one single high school teacher who took me under her wing, and helped me become a champion debater. She believed in me when no one else would. All it takes is that one person, willing to reach out to the child who is suffering. Or, the one child who learns from his parents the importance of treating the bullied child with kindness, and stepping up to defend, and befriend, that child.
Children are all wonderful gifts from God, who are pliable and open, ready to learn from the adults who are their parents, teachers, pastors, and neighbors. They depend on us for comfort, support, AND protection. They are in our care, and God expects us to take this responsibility very seriously. They are the future of our country, our Church, and our world, and must be taught the importance of being kind and generous towards others.
The child that is raised in the ways of the Lord, will in turn raise his/her child in the ways of God. Let us not pass on the sins and failures one generation into the generations to come. Let peace, love, justice, and charity be the hallmark of what we pass on to the next generation, and let us, most importantly, instill in our children the love of Christ.
Finally, let me say this: Many who were bullied as children, grow up bullying others. The pain of having suffered as children never really left them, and rather than becoming loving protectors of others as adults, they become bullies themselves. That some of these individuals who were bullied children are now parents, teachers, police officers, or even clergy, makes it all the more tragic.
No one deserves to be bullied, whether they are an employee bullied at the hands of their boss, a student badly treated by her teacher, a priest bullied by his bishop, or a child bullied by his dad, it is behavior that will one day necessitate being held accountable before the Throne of God.
With love in Christ,