Sunday, November 28, 2010

Message to bullying victims: God is on your side

Recent headlines have propelled bullying and teen suicide to the forefront.

As a teenager, I was bullied because my father was depressed and sometimes behaved irrationally. Not wanting to be labeled as weak, I never reported any bullying to my parents or to school officials.

Eventually, the harassment got the better of me, and I beat up my tormentor, landing both of us in the principal’s office. For me, a fistfight was my final option. Sadly, many teens today feel suicide — or even homicide — is their only escape.

While my bully made sure everyone knew about my father’s condition, his audience still was relatively small. Today, with e-mail, text messaging, instant messaging and social-networking sites, news travels faster and to a larger audience. (When I browse social-networking sites, I sometimes wonder if people have forgotten that the “www” stands for World Wide Web.) Also, my bully was confined to the school grounds, during school hours. With modern technology, bullying can be constant.

For many young people, their self-worth is defined by other people’s perception of them. This can lead to peer pressure and other dreaded decisions. The tarnishing of a reputation seems irreversible and so monumental to some that they would rather take their own lives than live with the consequences. Others may suffer from depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. Experts believe some students who committed school shootings were victims of bullying.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services advises victims to report bullying to an adult, not to fight back or bully others. It also suggests not to show fear or anger — which could encourage further incidents — but to walk away, calmly ask the bully to stop, use humor if possible and avoid situations where bullying is likely to happen.

The Scriptures tell us God created humans in his own image and “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” In the Hebrew Bible, the psalmist says, “I will praise [God] because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made.” Songwriter Jeff Slaughter expresses it this way: “I am who the great I am says I am.” In other words, God made me, he says I am good, and his opinion of me is the only one that counts.

It is unlikely that we ever will eradicate bullies, but if young people can embrace this biblical principal, they essentially can render bullies powerless.

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