Bullying is an age-old battle that, unfortunately, is waged across the life-span, but never so fiercely as during the childhood and adolescent years.  Much research has been spent on this topic; however, it still exists down school hallways, in cafeterias, on playgrounds, and even in churches.  Prevention and response would be most beneficial when both the target (victim) and initiator (bully) are provided interventions and support.  If this issue is to be decreased, and ideally ended, those who are being targeted need assistance and support to learn skills which will empower them and everyone involved could benefit from learning emotion regulation, mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, and distress tolerance skills.

So…what should parents, teachers, and community members do?  Start by educating ourselves about the child individually, both the targets and the initiators.  What need is the child or adolescent trying to meet?  What is in their heart? 

Abraham Maslow, a psychologist, identified a hierarchy of five basic human needs, including: first, physiological (food, water, shelter, and clothing); second, feeling secure within a family and protected against hunger and violence; third, love and belonging; fourth, esteem and self-respect; and lastly, to experience purpose and meaning in life.  From a Biblical perspective, we need a relationship with God through Christ, which enables us to belong to Him and identify our purpose, self-worth, and treatment of others according to His perfect love and grace.  Consider Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs from a Biblical perspective, from Genesis to be exact.  God created a world with water, plants, and animals within Eden and the shelter of His protection.  Clothing was not needed at first; however, when the time came God provided better than what Adam and Eve created for themselves.  God’s design was secure and protected by His instruction and presence.  The human race was created to have a relationship with God, to be loved by Him and belong to Him.  He gave dominion over the land and sea to Adam; that is significant esteem, which also was, and is, part of man’s purpose and meaning in life, along with glorifying God.  In relating this to bullying behaviors, it may be that an initiator is attempting to satisfy a need that is not being met or nourished by the adults in his or her life, and, unfortunately, results in the violation of the needs of another child or adolescent.  For the target, these needs should be validated and reinforced.  For the initiator, the child or adolescent should be taught more positive ways to meet these needs.

Dr. Paul David Tripp has related a person’s behaviors to what is in the person’s heart; just as a tree only bears the quality of fruit the roots sustain.  For both a target and initiator, the “heart of the matter” is what is being nourished within the child or adolescent’s heart.  Children and adolescents who find themselves as targets of bullying behaviors and do not have their basic needs met; do not have a strong support system within their family, church, or community; or have not developed positive coping skills will not have the internal resources to effectively manage a bullying experience.  Similarly, those who decide to engage in bullying others tend to lack in these areas as well and do not have mental models of positively effective ways of dealing with feelings of embarrassment, shame, inferiority, or the “identity crisis” of adolescence.  Thus, there is a tendency to confuse esteem and respect for control and fear in order to achieve that need.

What are the next steps?  Be the model of positive, respectful behavior.  Show children and adolescents what healthy fruits look like when they come from nourished roots: love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).  Keep communication open with children and adolescents.  Most importantly listen to the words they say in order to get a glimpse of their heart.  Be aware and try to assess the when and where of the bullying behaviors. Engage children, adolescents and other adults in the conversation to build a safe environment, including plans and steps to take when bullying behaviors occur.   Most importantly for children and adolescents is to feel safe enough to seek out adult assistance, whether that is mom and dad, a favorite teacher, or counselor.  For adults, it is essential to stay calm, model respectful behavior even in the heat of the moment, and intervene immediately.   

For those who have experienced bullying, whether as the target or initiator, individual and family therapy are safe and confidential places to talk about what is in the heart and what needs are lacking, to learn and practice new skills, and process the experience(s).  For children 12 years and younger, play therapy is a beneficial and developmentally appropriate approach which allows children to use their own natural language, play, to process and work through a variety of concerns.  At Genesis Counseling Center in Hampton Ashley Wroton, a Licensed Professional Counselor training to become a Registered Play Therapist, utilizes play therapy from both Child-Centered and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy approaches.  She includes Biblical principles in her work with clients and families as desired.  Ashley is also available to present at local schools, churches, or community agencies/organizations on this topic.  Appointments can be scheduled by calling 929-GENESIS. 

Verses to Encourage:

“And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19

“For his eyes are on the ways of a man, and he sees all his steps.” Job 34:21

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20

“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” 1 Timothy 1:7

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Romans 15:13

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Romans 12:19-20

“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”  Deuteronomy 31:6

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” Matthew 5:11

“Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”  Psalm 82:4

Verses to Challenge:

“But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”  1 Timothy 5:8

 “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”  1 Corinthians 6:19-20

“For his eyes are on the ways of a man, and he sees all his steps.” Job 34:21

 “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” 1 Timothy 1:7

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20

 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  John 13:34-35

“And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  Luke 10-27

 “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” Romans 12:10

“And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” Luke 6:31

“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” 1 John 4:11

 “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” 1 John 3:18

“But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” 1 John 3:17

 “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Ephesians 4:29

“Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.” Proverbs 17:9

 “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Philippians 2:3

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17