model something different


First, this: Sometimes bullying is physical violence. Sometimes it’s harassment. That’s a matter for schools and authorities. Physical fights, stalking, destroying property… that’s beyond me and these blog posts. I know teachers and administrators care about the kids that come through their schools. Try them first if things are happening at school. 

But, most of what I see kids and parents labeling as “bullying” is not the extreme physical fighting. 

So… practical stuff. How do we help teens and kids see their worth? How can adults confront the “bullying/anti-bullying” trend in a constructive manner? I have some ideas. Before you read them, please remind yourself that I don’t have a degree in counseling or anything official. I could be wrong. My thoughts aren’t going to be enough to solve the overall crisis. Hopefully they’ll help by continuing the conversation and together we can make youth feel accepted and maybe even save a life. 

I think a large problem with the bullying victim mentality is that teens obsess on their present circumstances. They don’t have a big picture view of life and let’s be honest, at their age did we? Life is school, school activities, peer group relationships and whatever else fits in before sleep. There’s this vague idea of life after high school but it doesn’t look too appealing. Depending on the individual, being an adult might seem awesome or terrifying. The best thing adults can do is show kids and teens that being an adult is a good thing. It’s okay to grow up. We are the models for younger people around us– we need to show them what a positive lifestyle looks like. (We can tell them, but I guarantee showing them is more effective.)

If kids don’t have quality friendships, it might be because they don’t see their parents or other adults in a quality friendship. If friends are just people we use for favors or people who foster the drama and the gossip in our towns and communities, they’ll start to find peers who fit those patterns in their relationships. If kindness is modeled by parents, teachers and other adults, they’ll pick up on that. Television, movies and music don’t always favor kindness. It’s cool to tear each other down and some of what we pass off as teasing is really more than that. Model something different. Live better. Pray for the people that stress you out. Force yourself to do good even to people who don’t deserve it. We are being watched by teens and kids. They’ll follow our example.

We need to connect kids and teens to people outside of their peer group. If a youth is having problems fitting in at school, find another place for the youth to belong. Get involved in a church community. Church is supposed to be about relationships with God and each other. If your church isn’t, work to change that climate or find a different church. Are there places a kid or teen could go to help someone else, taking the focus away from obsessing about their own problems? Absolutely. Every community has volunteer needs. Visiting a nursing home or adult retirement community, helping with younger kids at a daycare, doing some sort of project for a Ronald McDonald House or children’s hospital, walking dogs at an animal shelter, helping an elderly person with household chores, after school clubs, 4-H, scouting,  visiting a special needs home… it depends on the personality of the child or teen but there are definitely possibilities for getting connected outside of the school setting. Give a teen something to look forward to outside of school. If peer drama becomes part of life instead of all of life, perspective changes. 

There are a ridiculous number of extra-curricular activities and clubs. And while I know that kids like it when parents and adults watch a basketball game or show up for events, I also know that doesn’t take the place of relationship time. Driving to practices doesn’t count as quality relationship time. Teens need regular, consistent time to talk to an adult. They might never say it with words. They might roll their eyes when it’s suggested, but they need that contact. Trick them into talking by playing catch with a football or softball, playing ping pong or pool, going on a walk or run, playing a game of cards, crafting together, grabbing dinner together or whatever else affords the opportunity to talk without it seeming like an intense therapy session. 

The thing about talk time is that it needs to be a safe, judgement free place if the teen or kid is going to be  open. Sometimes teens swear. (Shocking, right?) If they’re reprimanded for a swear word, they might stop talking. Let them get it out and deal with language issues later. If talk time turns into an adult lecturing the kid or teen, they’ll tune out. They get enough of that other places. Questions are great if they’re open ended and not manipulative. For instance, “Do you think you should hang out with a jerk like Karissa?” is probably less effective than “So what do you like about Karissa? What do you do together?” You’ll get a chance to share your opinion but they hear it better when they ask for it. 

There is a time and a place to talk to teens about cleaning their room or doing their homework, but the teens that share life stuff with me frequently complain that all their parents care about is homework and chores. Work on the self-esteem, relationship stuff and most of the time kids will come around on the grades and homework stuff. 

We need to stop ourselves from assuming the worst about people around us. Not everyone is out to get us and not every teen is a troubled thug or delinquent. 

I know I promised resources. I didn’t have time yesterday to research. Silly hot dog days. I’ll see what I can come up with and try to post some later. Thanks for following me through my thoughts on bullying. I’m sure I’ll have more later but even fleshing out 3 blog posts helped.

You have ideas. You probably have resources. Share them in the comments. What am I missing? How do you show love to kids and teenagers? What can we do to help the youth in our communities survive adolescence? 

About SaraBSutter

I serve as the pastor of United Presbyterian Church in Goldfield, Iowa. My husband Steve and I are excited to be in a friendly small town and look forward to the years ahead. In addition to nerdy church stuff, I love reading books, writing, good coffee, cats, and football.

2 responses »

  1. I found your blog via another blog 🙂 I’ve enjoyed your series on bullying, and agree with all you’ve had to share.

    I especially think you’re spot on in regard to finding some way for your teen to volunteer. The only way to get a teen to be less self-absorbed (and all teens are self-absorbed) is to help them see the needs around them. It also serves a second purpose, though, in that teens then come to realize they are capable of doing more than they thought they could do.

    During the years my husband was youth pastor, God called us to spend a year in Africa, working with orphans. At first we were a little confused as to the assignment 🙂 How could we just up and leave the kids we were already working with? Then a wise mom of one of the teens said, “It would be better for our kids to see you being obedient to the call of God than to have you stay here with them.”

    That year helped the youth ministry in so many ways! First up, our daughter (who turned 15 while we were there) saw first hand the reality of life for so much of the world, and found her place in it by helping mend clothing for her new friends (who typically only had 2-3 outfits total), spending nights at the hospital when we had babies there (the hospital didn’t provide food or care for patients, only a bed and medicine), and helping build mud homes for widows.

    As we saw the value of living in a third world country, we invited other youth from our church back home to visit. One young man came for two months, a young lady for a month… We came away from that one-year experience knowing that an extended period in third-world conditions would be beneficial for ANY teen, and we continue to encourage young people to take advantage of any opportunity they have to travel and serve however they can.

    But we certainly don’t have to go overseas to serve! There are so many ways teens can get involved in their own communities, or one not too far away. Our home church (in rural Michigan) has taken family mission trips into inner city Chicago a couple of times (as well as to Appalachia and northern Minnesota).

    And that brings me to my last point: don’t just send your teen to serve, go with them! Whole families participate in the mission trips at our home church, and whole families are involved in various ministries right in their home towns. It’s our firm belief that the more a family does together, the better it is for each individual in that family.

  2. My husband and I were just talking yesterday about how we were picked on as kids. I don’t know if I’d equate that with bullying (some probably would) but while it stunk, we got through it, and I think it was because we both felt we had value outside of those situations. You and Kim have some good thoughts here. Thanks again for sharing.

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