August 8th, 2011
Photo © by Working Word | Flickr | Used under Creative Commons license.

We all have either experienced or observed bullying. Bullying is something we see almost every day—a person being called a name, being shoved, being made fun of, being bossed around, being yelled at and humiliated. Whether we’ve been bullies ourselves, or whether friends or other people we know are doing it, we all need to recognize that bullying has a terrible effect on the lives of people. Bullying is an intentional act. It is aggressive behavior meant to create fear, which may then lead to conflict. From there it often leads to terror. The sad part about bullying is that it could be prevented once it’s identified, but that does not always happen.

Bullying is done by someone who desires to have power over another. A bully does not feel inferior. On the contrary, he or she feels superior to others and wants to exercise power over others. To put it simply, bullying is an unequal balance of power exercised over another. It is a learned behavior, sometimes taught by a parent or older sibling or friend.

For bullies to exist, they must seek out a target and have bystanders. The bully seeks out someone who he or she thinks is less powerful. The bully starts out testing the target. Once the bully determines the target to be viable, the bully gathers bystanders—an audience—for support.

As a youth worker you must learn to recognize the difference between teasing and bullying so that you can stop it before it goes beyond the initial steps of the bully testing the target. Your youth must also be able to recognize bullying and know how to react to prevent it. We begin by recognizing that there are three forms of bullying: verbal, relational, and physical.

Verbal Bullying—Gossip is a form of verbal bullying. It can be in the form of racial name-calling, sexual comments, malicious teasing, and belittling. It can include starting rumors, prank phone calls, e-mail message harassment, and even extorting a youth’s spending money. Verbal bullying is the most common form and frequently leads to the other two forms of bullying.

Physical Bullying—This is the most easily recognized form. It’s this form that will frequently do the most harm to all three participants—the bully, the bullied, and the bystander. This kind of bully may eventually become involved in deeper criminal activity because this bully will eventually become isolated from his or her age group. It becomes such a way of life that often this kind of bully becomes a sociopath.

Relational Bullying—This form is the hardest to detect because it is a form of exclusion. The bully uses rumor, gossip, and name-calling to attempt to remove the target from his or her peer group. Expressions such as “nerd” and “sissy” may seem innocent, but the bully uses them to try to damage the target’s relationship with others.

Be aware of what’s happening in your area of ministry and stop all forms of bullying before they get started as routine behavior among your youth. Be aware that you may be pulled into a trap of participation thinking that it’s just a case of teasing.

Unequal Balance of Power
Bullying happens for many reasons. Sometimes a bully will act because he or she sees other people doing it. Sometimes bullying happens because someone feels that it’s what you do if you want to hang out with a certain crowd. Sometimes bullies act to keep from being bullied themselves. But always, bullying makes the bully feel stronger, smarter, or better than the person he or she is bullying. Bullying is about an unequal balance of power.

What the Bible Says
“Those who wink an eye bring trouble; those who speak foolishly are ruined..” (Proverbs 10:10, CEB)

“The godless destroy their neighbors by their words, but the righteous are saved by their knowledge..” (Proverbs 11:9, CEB);

“Don’t let any foul words come out of your mouth. Only say what is helpful when it is needed for building up the community so that it benefits those who hear what you say.” (Ephesians 4:29, CEB)

God calls on us to treat one another with honesty and fairness. Bullying is contrary to what God asks us to do. Whether we are the bully or a bystander, we are allowing relationships to be destroyed. Name calling, gossip, hitting others, and bullying are all actions that damage the relationships that we have with others and with God.

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