Solutions to Preteen Bullying
Last week I wrote a blog titled Preteen Bullying: It’s Many Faces. As noted in that blog, knowing that bullying takes on many forms helps us to better address the situation.
So, what can children’s & preteen pastors do to address the topic of bullying?
1. Do something.
As noted in the previous blog, realizing that bullying is a big enough topic to address is the first step. If you’re wrestling with it’s importance, do a quick survey. Ask the preteens or kids in your group to raise their hands if in the last month they’ve witnessed bullying, experienced bullying or had a friend who was bullied. You might be surprised at the response.
2. Define bullying.
As noted in my previous blog, bullying takes on many forms. When you begin to address the topic with preteens, they often associate bullying with one peer or group of peers who harass others. It’s much broader than that, so be sure to start by educating them on the many faces of bullying.
3. Affirm feelings.
As leaders, we often tell preteens to forgive right out of the gate. We tell them to put a happy face on and move on. But it’s not that simple. Forgiveness is a process. And the process begins when they first acknowledge their feelings. Tell preteens that it is okay to be mad or sad. Give them permission to experience whatever feelings come their way. Help them to avoid ignoring how they feel about the situation or stuffing feelings deep down inside. Acknowledging that they are upset, hurt or angry is the beginning of the process. Give preteens an opportunity to feel, express and talk about their feelings.
4. Explain that hurting people hurt people.
Bullies often tease and put down others because they are experiencing some type of hurt or pain. It could be verbal or physical abuse from a parent, due to a divorce from their parents or one of a hundred other things. Use the analogy of a fruit tree. The fruit represents the bully’s behavior and the root is the cause of the behavior. The fruit is connected to the root. Knowing there is a root problem that causes their behavior is essential. It helps preteens to move past taking the abuse personally. Reinforce often that there is nothing wrong with them, but that bullying is often a result of other pain/hurt (the root).
5. Take action.
Witnessing bullying and doing nothing about it is almost as bad as the act as bullying. Encourage preteens to talk to teachers, parents or other adults in their lives when they witness bullying. If nobody says anything, then the problem continues. Also encourage those who are experiencing any form of bullying to go to a trusted adult to get help. Experiencing any form of bullying alone can be really painful. Adults have the power to step in and fix the situation.
6. Explain that forgiveness is power.
Preteens often don’t understand forgiveness. So, unpack that real forgiveness is power. Unforgiveness leads to more hurt. When you forgive, you’re actually freeing yourself from future pain. Forgiveness is a process that takes time and doesn’t happen overnight. But when you can reach a point where you let it go, there is power and freedom in that.
If you’re looking for more resources about bullying, check out bullies2buddies.com. There are tons of great tools for parents, teachers and students there.
Also, PreteenMinistry.net has recently released a four week series on the topic – Bullying: Taking Down Goliath. If you’re looking for a series to address bullying, this is it!