Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Sticks and Stones

Hello dear reader

I have struggled mightily with this article.  I have stewed over the content, the format, the font size, the font color and whether or not to use English or Swahili.  OK, mostly it has been content and format that I've pondered.  What am I talking about you ask?  Well, if you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you will have seen a post or tweet I made recently regarding mean spirited kids and the home-schooling option.  It sparked quite the discussion, which I think was a very positive thing.  In that discussion I promised to blog about it.  So, after some debate with myself (I lost said debate), I am sort of ready to write.  And here it opinion.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.  If you have had to say this to anyone, chances are you were saying it defensively.  Chances are you had just been called something not very nice.  Chances are you are the victim of bullying.  In my humble opinion, bullying is running rampant through our society, through our schools, through our churches and through our homes.  And that statement leads me to ask you the question "What do you consider bullying?"  If your answer reflects the physical act of pushing, hitting or intimidating others, then I say you are barely right.  Yes, bullying is a physical thing.  But I firmly believe that physical bullying is on it's way out of society.  Community leaders, educators, church leaders and parents have all been made aware of the danger of allowing physical bullying, and are very cognizant of it...if they see it happen, they do their best to stop it from happening.  And trust me, this is a very good thing.  Being bullied physically is a very hard thing to go through.

But now I ask you "How about verbal abuse?"  If you reply with a 'Pfft", or 'Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me", then I've got news for you.  Verbal abuse is the form of bullying that is much more damaging than physical.  Verbal abuse is much harder to catch.  Verbal abuse is much maligned as 'we're just teasing'.  In our society, our schools, our churches and our homes, verbal bullying or abuse is almost 'chic'.  If you're not teasing the 'weaker' kid, you're just not cool.  You can't fit in with our crowd unless you help us make that boy cry, or get mad.  If you're not with us, you're against us.  Wow.  Talk about pressure.  Talk about being drawn into something that we may know is wrong, but our own sense of self-preservation forces us to give in and join in.  Talk about wrong.

There are many questions I could ask at this point.  Such as "What makes you better than that boy?" or,'What gives you the right to call that girl stupid?'.  And those are just a couple questions I would ask the kids.  How about the parents?  I could ask questions of them as well.  'How are you educating your child(ren) at home about respecting other kids?'  'What sort of training mechanism do you have to steer your child(ren) clear of this behavior?'   There are questions, but I'm not sure they are being asked.  And if they are being asked, the answer is wrong.

Please don't get me wrong...I understand that there is a difference between friendly banter / mild teasing and verbal abuse.  But, the line is very, very thin.  What hurts me or my child may not hurt you or your child.  And that line is what needs to be addressed.  How do we define it?  Can we come up with a clear definition of that line?  A definition which community leaders, educators, parents and children all can understand, agree to and adhere to?  Nope, I don't think we can.  But I think we can teach awareness.  We can empower the bullies to take a step back from their hate (yes, I call it hate for a reason).  And we can provide the bullied the tools to deal with the drivel that spewed at them.

The education of bullies and bullied starts with us as parents.  I need to teach my kids that calling someone names is unacceptable.  But I need to teach this in a tangible fashion.  It is not enough to tell them 'Don't call anyone mean things'.  I'm sorry...that goes in one ear and out the other.  I have recently been engaging in role plays with my kids.  Not to the point where they get hurt by what I say, but so that they get the message.  And I will continue to do this, because once or twice is not enough.  It needs to be an on-going conversation with our kids.  I also need to teach my kids how to handle the verbal abuse.  Again, we have started to do some role play.  I am trying to teach them to mentally throw the words in the garbage, and tell themselves the opposite.  So, if someone calls you stupid, turn away, throw the word in the garbage and say 'I am not stupid, I am smart'.  It is not the only method.  It may not even work for my kids.  But the key is that I have to try.  And I have to continue to try.

I believe that our schools have done a good job in stamping out bullying.  I don't think too many kids are getting beat up on the playground anymore.  Nobody is punching a kid in the eye on the school bus.  No, dear is much more subtle than that.  And as much as we'd like to blame the school for not doing their job, I think we need to blame ourselves for not doing our jobs.  There are many tools and programs available to deal with this...both from a bullies perspective and the bullied perspective.  But it starts with you and me as parents.  Teach your children.  Educate them.  Empower them.  How many of our children have to feel the ravaging effects of depression before we catch on?  Do any of our children have to take their own lives before we as parents learn?  Think it won't happen?  Take off your rose colored glasses.  We live in a sinful world.  There is no Utopia.  There is no perfection.  Pay attention to your children's behaviour.  Is he or she a bully?  Is he or she being bullied?  If so, we need to converse among ourselves as parents.  We need to work together to stamp it out.  We need to love our children.

I could say much more, dear reader.  I have some very strong opinions on this subject.  And maybe some day I will write more about it as I learn more about it.  You may disagree with me, you may agree with me.  That is your right.  But please, don't abuse me because of what I am, or what I believe, or what I write.  Sticks and stones will break my bones...and words will quite often hurt me.


PS:  I'd love to interact with you on this article.  The comment section is open.  I moderate it, and need to approve every comment.  But, if the comment is relevant (whether in agreement or disagreement), I will publish it.  And I hope to interact with every comment.  Keeping up the dialogue is important.  Let's work together.  FF



  1. I would like to add another point: This is a “heart” issue in our kids and whether they are living in union with Christ. Parents need to address the “heart” and teachers don’t always have the time to do that so they often just enforce more “rules” without addressing the real problem. That could lead to little Pharisees and self-righteousness. Our kids had an anti-bullying thing at their school which made more “rules” which caused kids to start picking on other kids in a different way “See, she bullied me, etc.” They started to become little Pharisees hoping to find someone falling into the sin of what might be bullying. Sigh…..

  2. Thanks for the post, Rod. You should publish it in a school newsletter. I would just add that bullying also can include those non-verbal actions. Everything from the eye-rolling, whispering to another kid while pointing to the kid who is being whispered about, spreading false rumours, etc.
    We have two kids in regular school and one who is being homeschooled for different reasons (one of which is to react appropriately to being bullied). You are absolutely right, Rod. Discipleship STARTS at home….the school can not do that! It’s the parents’ job first of all and the teachers can only do so much. Some kids need that extra discipline and discipleship at home more than other kids. Social skills (being polite, loving your neighbor, respect, manners) need to be primarily taught at home, not at school. We can all think of kids in any school (public, Christian, independent, homeschool) with bad socialization (bullying behavior, lack of self-control over anger, etc.) and that often/most of the time comes from the home. Teachers sometimes have their hands tied, because parents don’t stand behind them. Of course, teachers have been known to be bullies too (putting students down, name-calling, slapping, kicking students around, humiliation, etc.) although I see less of it now.

  3. Leonard HoogerdijjkMarch 3, 2013 at 1:38 PM

    The verbal abuse (bullying) is far more dangerous that a physical beating. Most often the physical beating is done, and finished. The verbal abuse leaves far more lasting and damaging effects. I still maintain – do not blame the school for this.

    Let me expand a bit. At your home no foul, abusive, blasphemous language is heard or taught. But Johnny goes to school and comes from school with a mouthful of words that fit the above categories. Was he taught these by the teachers? Of course not! But in his contact with his peers, he picks up these words and phrases from them. And where did his peers get these words? I would venture to say – eventually – from the home. Too often, when I corrected a students verbal language, I would hear “but my father/mother says it too!” In the same way verbal abuse may find its origin in the home. Parents need to pray “Set Lord a guard upon my lips”! As we all need to do.

    If we love the Lord, as we profess to do, we ought to show this in our verbal communications to young and old, and anger is no excuse! If our love for the Lord does not show in our speech when we address others, then the love for the Lord is not there (in us).

    Thanks for writing what you did

  4. Marianne van der AheMarch 3, 2013 at 1:39 PM

    I came across this on Facebook recently:
    “A teacher in New York was teaching her class about bullying and gave them the following exercise to perform. She had the children take a piece of paper and told them to crumple it up, stamp on it and really mess it up but do not rip it. Then she had them unfold the paper, smooth it out and look at how scarred and dirty it was. She then told them to tell it they’re sorry. New even though they said they were sorry and tried to fix the paper, she pointed out all the scars they left behind. And that those scars will never go away no matter how hard they tried to fix it. That is what happens when a child bullies another child; they may say they’re sorry but the scars are there forever. The looks on the faces of the children in the classroom told her the message hit home.”
    This exercise should be compulsory for every classroom!

  5. great post!
    Don’t kid yourself though, the physical bullying still happens!

    I think it’s important to address the issue of bullying and keep addressing it. Too often when a problem arises it is dealt with and then the adults in the situation believe it has stopped but it often continues in a more subtle or hidden but still destructive way. We must constantly talk to our children about their friendships and how they treat each other.
    Also, I believe a lot of bullying happens at home. I often see older children bullying the younger siblings. We need to teach our children that it is totally unacceptable.

  6. Just a couple of things…. ‘our schools’ may have done an okay job of stamping out physical bullying… not the rest. And thank you for your comment ‘ Teach your children. Educate them.’ I am, and that’s why I homeschool. My kids may say hurtful things, or have comments made about them, but I’m usually there.. and it’s dealt with right away. Days or weeks don’t go by before I catch on to something being wrong. And then I’m thankful that the kids involved can take a break from each other, and not be forced to see the person every day. Like you, I could go on.