Nearly each time I write or speak about adolescent bullying, the leading form of child abuse in the nation, a stern group of naysayers denounce our work as fruitless because bullying is “too much a part of human nature,” a “manifestation of social instincts,” and part of “the natural selection that governs all of our lives.”
One naysayer was even more brutal. “Bullies are the strong who will always dominate the weak because that’s how natural selection works.”
They promote a dangerous ideology shared by Hitler who wrote that it is the “fundamental law of necessity” found “throughout the realm of Nature [that] existence is subject to the law of eternal struggle and strife…where the strong are always the masters of the weak and where those subject to such laws must obey them or be destroyed.”
So targets of bullying are meant to be tormented by the cruel hand of fate, like Jews, or as Hitler called it, “[C]onformity with the eternal Will that dominates the universe, to postulate the victory of the better and stronger, and the subordination of the inferior and weaker.”
Tellingly, the profile of almost all online keyboard warriors for this brutal ideology are male, presumably seeing themselves as the strong, not the weak, imbuing them with grandeur and purpose.
But are bullies really the strong that these social Darwinists celebrate, and for that matter, is the intellectual underpinning they take from Darwin even accurate?
We know that serial bullies are four to five times more likely to abuse their future spouse and children, and five to six times more likely to commit a felony by their middle twenties.
Sean Mulveyhill, now 26, was at the center of the Phoebe Prince bullying catastrophe at South Hadley High School nine years ago where Prince eventually took her own life. In March of 2019, Mulveyhill was arrested on rape allegations leveled by a student at Mount Holyoke College, where he worked as a bartender (He was arrested, along with his brother, for shoplifting on October 23, 2009).
Anyone who knows the real world of bullying isn’t shocked by this development. We expected it. But more to the point: How due run-ins with the law, a damaged reputation, and spending time in prison make you stronger, better and more powerful than others? Remember, it’s the “strong” who reproduce, seeding their superior DNA. Yet we also know that women are drawn to confident men, not abusive nor brutal ones. So exactly how do prisoners, many of whom abusive, have a greater chance at reproducing than non-prisoners? Have fun trying to explain that one to stay in goose step with Hitler’s eternal Will.
The facts create a very different narrative. Bullies, almost all of whom are arrogant and narcissistic, strut for a while, then are often cut down and sequestered through powerful confines such as laws and social norms. Aggression and brutality may equal domination, but they don’t lead to success through wealth, power or reproduction, in part because such narcissists are less successful in the long term because they set unrealistic goals, take stupid risks, and alienate others (Jean Twenge, The Narcissism Epidemic).
Charles Darwin himself wasn’t even “fit.”
He was laid up for days on end with stomach problems, headaches and heart symptoms. For the rest of his life, he was repeatedly incapacitated with episodes of stomach pains, vomiting, severe boils, palpitations, trembling and other symptoms. The source of his illness is not known, though some experts suspect it was the result of heart complications.
So how did this unfit person even survive? Through a force more powerful than natural selection: Compassion. He was nursed back to health, or degrees of health, multiple times by his cousin, Emma Wedgwood, whom he married.
This year, a list of more than one-thousand PhD scientists were publicly added to the report called “Scientific Dissent from Darwinism,” intellectuals who courageously declare their skepticism in the face of absolutist evolutionary theory. The signers hold professorships or doctorates from Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard, Berkeley, MIT, UCLA, the University of Pennsylvania, and many other prominent institutions. Supporters of this list emphasize the world publicly because there are more scientists who would add their names, but fear it would cost them their careers. Darwin (much like Freud before him) is under fire by people far smarter than your average bear.
Bullying does not begin with anger. It begins with the Hitleresque belief that I Am Special. Above the herd. Meant to rule, superior and entitled. By promoting their populist version of survival of the fittest (a phrase first used by Herbert Spencer), they inject more justification for bullying into our already severely damaged culture. This may be one reason why we’re witnessing a rise in anti-Semitism.
A far more humane truth is before us when we consider strength and its actual relation to bullying. It’s the people who stand up to bullies who are the truly strong, those with the moral fiber and inclination to stand against this brutal form of abuse rooted in the same soil as racism, bigotry, sexual harassment and even genocide.
For some, the paint on the walls of their house of horror due to adolescent bullying just won’t dry, even into their later years. This is true for best-selling Christian fiction author Frank Peretti, whose parents, like millions of other parents, burdened him with the most tortured Scripture in the theater of bullying that also leads to untold miscarriages of justice within Christian education as well.
“I came from a Christian home that believed in nonviolence,” says Peretti, “where I was told to ‘turn the other cheek,’ and where if someone abused me, I was supposed to take it. I remember specifically in grade school, this boy shoved me to the ground. I sprang up and got face-to-face with him. But there was this barrier I wasn’t allowed to cross. I wasn’t allowed to defend myself, so I just glared at him. From then on, he knew he had an easy target because he knew I wouldn’t resist him. He bullied me for years, and it was a direct result of the teaching that I got at home.”
The fruit from this popular, well-meaning but naive prohibition, he says, was devastating. “It actually worsened the problem and opened the floodgates to more bullying, which followed me. Once you get the reputation as a target, it’s like a cosmic vibe where, from grade to grade, you’re the one. Word gets around. The turn-the-other-cheek posture reinforces it. When you aren’t allowed or don’t know how to protect yourself, it projects. Like wearing a sign. It shows in your timid personality. It enhances bullying and feeds the problem.”
TURN TO HIM YOUR LEFT CHEEK
There is no more popular Bible quote, nor more prevalent Bible confusion within Christian education, than Jesus’ admonishment to “turn the other cheek.” Yet when kept in context within the two other pertinent examples that surround this somewhat cryptic phrase, we are better able to minister to the most hurting children among us:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But now I tell you: do not take revenge on someone who wrongs you. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, let him slap your left cheek too.
“And if someone takes you to court to sue you for your shirt, let him have your coat as well. And if one of the occupation troops forces you to carry his pack one mile, carry it two miles. When someone asks you for something, give it to him; when someone wants to borrow something, lend it to him” (Matthew 5:38–42, GNT).
Jesus, speaking to adults about adult matters, not children, and certainly not children who are being intentionally and serially abused, used three illustrations with legal consequences:
A blow to the right cheek was a serious insult punishable by a heavy fine. This is likely why Jesus said to turn to the offender your left cheek since the right cheek had already been struck.
A person’s cloak was protected from forfeiture (Exodus 22:25–27), presumably so the person would not be left naked and completely vulnerable.
A Roman soldier’s right to commandeer civilian porters was limited to just one mile.
The legal context to Jesus’ three illustrations is fortified by the previous passage (Matthew 5:25–26, NET):
“Reach agreement quickly with your accuser while on the way to court, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the warden, and you will be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will never get out of there until you have paid the last penny!”
He’s telling us that sometimes it’s best to settle a matter out of court instead of asserting all your legal rights at all times. Avoid legal entanglements, He’s telling us, even if you are on the right side, because you may be saving yourself from unforeseen woes and sorrows.
All three of Jesus’ illustrations involve the possibility of setting aside legal rights as an adult. They have nothing to do with children being intentionally abused multiple times by another child or, for that matter, an adult.
It’s as if Jesus is telling something like this: “You adults, we both know you have the right and freedom to sue that other person, to say ‘no’ when others burden you, to respond harshly when insulted. But should you? I want you to consider showing a generous spirit instead.” I add generous spirit because look at how this section concludes: “When someone asks you for something, give it to him; when someone wants to borrow something, lend it to him.” This is the main point Jesus is making, a point that isn’t mentioned when addressing adolescent bullying from a Christian (or so-called Christian) perspective. None of this falls in the category of physical, psychological, or spiritual abuse since these are single acts, not part of an ongoing pattern of abuse and sometimes terror, as was the case for Peretti and millions of targets just like him.
If you have camped at a public campground, you may have been unfortunate enough to camp next to a person running his RV’s generator till 10 p.m., which is when the no-noise curfew kicks in. But up until that time, he will assert his right, and all the while make everyone else miserable. After all, one of the reasons you go camping is to get away from noise like that. But he does it anyway, garnering the frustration and anger of those around him as he asserts his rights. What Jesus is saying is don’t be that ungenerous guy who is right but also very wrong.
Considering who Jesus is speaking to and what His main point is, here is a hypothetical statement that Jesus might say regarding bullying, “You may have the legal right and freedom to sue the bully and even the school, but should you? I want you to consider extending generosity to the bully and her family.”
So in this difficult situation you might say, “You know what your child did was illegal. We could press charges, but we’ve decided not to in order to show you and your child generosity. We are also considering inviting you and your child to dinner, if that’s something we can agree upon. But either way, we are also telling you that if your child harms our child again, we may take legal action.” To be overgenerous can be as harmful as being under-generous, especially when abuse of an innocent child is involved.
Laws aren’t designed to change the human heart. They are devised to curtail human sin and evil, the kind of besetting vices that appeal to peace, love, and understanding rarely transform. Says Peretti, repeating a conclusion that many counselors at Christian schools have told us for more than a decade: “Can you get a bully to stop by appealing to his or her humanity? I’m skeptical about that. Bullying is animalistic—part of our base nature. It’s sin, of course, and has a spiritual dimension that’s vicious, dark, and violates God’s creation.”
Sometimes, even with the best of intentions, and the best practices found within the anti-bullying movement, legal consequences are the only barriers that protect the innocent. Yet there are many proactive steps that students, their parents, and related guardians can take before turning to the law. They can try to befriend the child who bullies, making sure to give the child who bullies no private information about the target, which can be used against him or her later. If this doesn’t work, they can deploy what we call “Resistance without War,” behaviors that erect strong boundaries, focusing not on what the bully does but how the target responds since we train others how to treat us. And serial targets sometimes do not train others well. As Peretti knows too well, the turn-the-other-cheek posture is a kind of training that can invite aggression from the malevolent. Growing a target’s circle of friends (three to five is good) is proven to help, as are verbal comebacks such as “Whatever,” which is dismissive but does not lower oneself to the forbidden act of revenge. More assertive body language is proven to ward off bullying, as is not providing bullies a public display of pain or anguish, either face-to-face or online.
Instructing a target of bullying to accept abuse as “thus saith the Lord” through this misunderstood Scripture is erroneous and cruel, given what Jesus really said. It’s even harder to justify as we ponder how the word justice appears in the Bible about 130 times (compared to forgiveness, which appears a mere 13 times). Our God is big enough to foster both in our hearts and our Christian institutions. Those of us in Christian education do our part to foster both when we remove the most mishandled Scripture in the theater of bullying, and replace it with more salient ones, such as this from the minor prophet, Micah: “He has told you, human one, what is good and what the Lord requires from you: to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8, CEB).
Paul Coughlin is the founder and president of The Protectors. The Protectors is a ministry partner of ACSI. He has been a keynote speaker at ACSI conferences. The Protectors is the only faith-centered organization helping Christian schools across the world for more than a decade to reduce bullying through its effective and evidence-based program. Coughlin is an expert witness, author of eight books, a writer for FoxNews Headquarters on the topic of bullying, and is a consultant with the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens about bullying in professional sports. Portions of this article are excerpts from Free Us From Bullying: Real Solutions Beyond Being Nice (Leafwood Press, August, 2018). To learn more, go to www.theprotectors.org.
Editors Note: We would recommend that you purchase Paul’s book Free Us From Bullying: Real Solutions Beyond Being Nice to take the next steps in preventing bullying. You can find the book on Amazon.
The Harding University Honors College recently hosted Paul Coughlin, an expert in the field of school and workplace bullying, as part of the L.C. Sears Collegiate Seminar Series in the American Heritage Auditorium. Coughlin discussed “How to Bring God’s Love & Justice Into the ‘Theater of Bullying.'”
A best-selling author and school bullying expert who spoke at Harding University last year believes bystanders are the answer to what is now considered the No. 1 form of child abuse.
Paul Coughlin, who discussed “How to Bring God’s Love and Justice Into the ‘Theater of Bullying'” as part of the university’s L.C. Sears Collegiate Seminar Series, said that as a former victim of bullying, he wanted to “work on behalf of justice” and found his program Protectors in 2005 to diminish bullying in schools.
Coughlin said he took inventory of his life and decided he wanted to make a difference in other people’s lives. He studied the topic of bullying for years before noticing an alternative approach to the problem that traditional, and unsuccessful, programs were overlooking. The Protectors website states that unlike other anti-bullying efforts that focus primarily upon reforming children who bully and which are historically ineffective, Protectors focuses on the rescuing capacity of bystanders.
“I studied the topic for like three years before I really created anything. And after three years I thought, ‘You know what? We may be on to something here in regard to growing courage on behalf of the bystander, seeing them as a protector.’ That was the genesis of it,” Coughlin said.
He also provides assertiveness training for targets, educates authority figures about bullying and attempts to inspire children who bully to employ their power in life-affirming directions instead.
“I am proud to help kids who are targets to no longer be targets,” Coughlin said. “The target can do things that can make it better in many circumstances. If we take that away, then they’re hopeless and their parents are hopeless too. It’s devastating to see how hopeless parents become.
“We have brought hope to thousands of kids who were pretty hopeless. … We have created protectors. We are proud to help create the kind of person who stands up for the weak and vulnerable and the wounded in spirit.”
Since there were already anti-bullying initiatives in public schools, Coughlin, who is a Christian, said he started Protectors as a faith-based program, but it didn’t take long for public schools to request his program as well. The program now has curriculum for public and private schools.
“Bullying stems from such profound human weakness — public schools are not allowed to speak to the spiritual side of bullying ”¦ they are not able to speak to the entire child,” Coughlin said. “I think, given the dynamic of bullying, Christian education has a unique ability to address it.”
Brandon Emlaw, president of the Honors College student advisory council, said that once the council learned what Coughlin’s organization did, he knew Harding students, especially in the education department, would benefit from his message. After the presentation, Emblaw said he felt “profoundly inspired.”
“I think a big part of it is to maintain hope and the perspective that even though this is a big problem there are things that can be done, and that we can put an end to bullying even if it’s just one small step at a time. Especially the education majors in the audience, I can imagine getting discouraged by the magnitude of the problem,” Emlaw said. “There are approaches and strategies and good things that we can do to help. It was really encouraging to me and I’d hope an encouragement to the education majors.”
During his visit at the end of October, Coughlin said he was able to inspire more than 200 Searcy grade-school students to publicly apologize for bullying and related behavior. He said he has kids apologize publicly because they often want to “get it off their chest” and bullies respond to positive peer pressure. Coughlin said that if the majority of students would provide direct intervention, “report not tattle” and comfort their targets after bullying occurs, it would reduce bullying in America by about 80 percent within two to three weeks.
“Kids need to be saved from themselves. They lack the wisdom and foresight on many complex issues and certainly the theater of bullying is a complex issue,” Coughlin said. “With wisdom, and grace and courage on behalf of educators, they can help kids navigate these difficult waters, but they’re not going to do it on their own.”
Study: Childhood trauma can lead to headaches, insomnia and more
By this time of year, school bullies have separated their prey from the herd – nice kids, shy ones, the kids whose parents tragically tell them to “turn the other cheek” – and filled their child victims with fears of humiliation, isolation and threats.
Tragically, school bullying is far more widespread than many people realize. Studies show that about 28 percent of students age 12-18 report being bullied at school each year, and about 160,000 children a day skip school across the country to avoid bullying. These targets feel less than others, because that is what their bullies and supporters tell them.
The result is lethal. Far too many times, I’ve talked with yet another grieving and weeping mother who has lost her child due to suicide caused by bullying – bullycide.
Like Jill Moore, who wept when she told me how her daughter, Alex, was so miserable at Jemison High School in Jemison, Alabama, that she hurled herself off an overpass and into morning rush-hour traffic, after years of ongoing bullying.
Like Maureen Molak, whose son, David, took his life due to brutal cyberbullying, even after transferring to a Christian school in San Antonio, Texas. She wept when telling me how David felt that “God had abandoned him. Our family will never be the same. It feels like a life sentence for all of us.”
Like the gentle and humble immigrant mother from Mexico, whose daughter tried to kill herself, or more accurately, tried to drain the pain drowning her tender spirit.
Panicked to the point of wheezing, her mother wept while telling me how her daughter’s head was bashed into a short concrete curb at school by a known female bully. The daughter was then punched multiple times by the same bully on the back of her head as she lay unconscious on the same skull-white concrete.
The girl’s frantic mother said in broken English that she makes her beautiful daughter sleep next to her every night, and drapes her right arm across her daughter’s body so she cannot slip her motherly grasp and try to take her life again.
Though a bullied child can be nine times more likely to consider or attempt suicide, most thankfully do not walk this desperate path. But something within them is still murdered – their vulnerable spirit.
It’s happening at this hour and every hour. Parents across our country are seeing vitality and hope drain out of their precious children. They are seeing what Martin Luther King saw in the eyes of one of his daughters, the “ominous clouds of inferiority (in their) little mental sky.…”
That little light of theirs no longer shines, such as happened with a 9-year-old boy with hemophilia, whose mother pulled him from public school and put him in a Christian school. But he’s still being bullied and is crying for help.
“He’s being bullied verbally, emotionally and now physically by the majority of students,” the boy’s mother said. “He has no self-esteem and doesn’t fight back. I constantly worry he’ll kill himself. I need someone to take this seriously. It’s killing me to watch my son so miserable.”
We adults must lead our children out of this complex bramble of disdain and hatred, and we have a long way to go, as revealed in the latest social experiment from Burger King. You may have seen the viral video where only 12 percent of adults helped a bullied child in a Burger King, yet 95 percent of the same adults complained about their inexpensive burger being mangled.
It’s a whopper of a fail. Until we adults care more about the psychological and spiritual well-being of our children – worth far more than a cheap slab of pressed beef – more precious children will take their lives in a shortsighted and desperate act to just make their pain go away.
Mature, loving adults must lead the charge – in part by taking courage from those already fighting and winning. Like Maureen Molak, who is burning out the bad soil of suffering and maternal grief, and transforming it into a laser beam of love.
Molak helped create David’s Law in Texas, perhaps the most powerful anti-bullying legislation in America. And she spearheaded the DBM Project, which stands for David Bartlett Molak, but also stands for Don’t Bully Me.
This project provides pro bono legal advocacy for targets of bullying and their families in Texas. The goal is not to gain money from the bully’s family, but liberation for targets and their families.
Sometimes, just a letter from an attorney can make bullying stop, smashing the stubborn myth that bullies can’t control themselves. They can. They just need a strong enough reason to stop.
May the DBM Project spread to every state in our great nation, and in the process, drape a loving arm across the shoulders of abused children and their families for generations to come.
This article is part of Barna’s back-to-school series. In the coming weeks, we’ll explore brand new research on education, from parents’ expectations and college trends to students’ schedules and school violence.
With the new academic year upon us, parents will be preparing to send their children off to school with different expectations and motivations for their education. Their process of choosing a school was most likely informed by the educational objectives they most value for their children. But what are the priorities of parents when it comes to choosing a school? And what role does faith play in such important decisions? In partnership with the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI), Barna asked parents of current and prospective Christian school students about their schooling decisions.
The Goals of Education When it comes to what they consider to be the goals or ultimate purpose of education, parents of both current ACSI students and prospective students want more for their children than a list of accomplishments or path to wealth. Parents clearly think of schools as meeting a complex range of student and family needs. Of course, that includes academic subjects. It also includes other ways of developing and nurturing children.
Barna asked these parents to choose the top five purposes of education. For both groups of parents, the most selected goal of education is to instill strong principles and values (current: 69%, prospective: 53%).
There are some key differences however. Prospective parents are more focused on objectives related to personal achievement and social skills like “practical life skills” (51% compared to 31%), “increased opportunities in life” (45% compared to 29%), and a “fulfilling career” (38% compared to 22%). On the other hand, parents of current students place a higher priority on spiritual goals and a lower value on personal achievement. As a group, the ACSI parents believe education is primarily for developing a child’s character and spirituality, then academics and career. They do not believe education’s ability to raise a child’s socioeconomic status is nearly as important.
In addition to instilling strong principles and values, a majority of parents of current students place a high priority on five goals that include “love for God and other people” (65% compared to 33%), the “ability to apply their knowledge” (referred to as wisdom) (60% compared to 47%), “faithfulness and obedience to God” (54% compared to 21%) and “leadership skills” (52% compared to 46%).
What Parents Want in Schools
Most parents are looking for a school that aligns with their general ideas about education—what a school should do. However, parents’ specific priorities when it comes to choosing a school seem to reveal another side to what they value in an education—what a school should be like.
Safety’s first. Next come quality teachers, academic excellence and character development. Barna asked parents to rate 23 characteristics of a school from “essential” to “nice to have” to “not necessary.” What follows is a detailed look at the top four characteristics that are most important to parents.
A safe environment is the most essential feature when choosing a school for parents of both current (98% essential) and prospective (94%) Christian school students. Safety can mean anything from a toxin-free building or a padded playground to bullying prevention. However, it can also include “cultural safety,” such as feeling safe to ask questions or express doubt, learning to work through differences or a general sense of belonging and respect.
Based on findings from qualitative research, parents considering sending their child to a Christian school are thinking of their children’s physical and emotional safety from other children in the school. However, parents with children currently in Christian schools are more likely to be thinking of the freedom to ask questions or raise doubts, like those related to their faith.
Among parents of current ACSI students, almost half (47%) rate their current school with a 10 of out 10 for providing a safe environment. Comparatively, only 4 percent rate charter schools and public schools in the same way. Prospective parents, though more generous toward public (21%) and charter schools (35%), also give private Christian schools (both 42%) a 10 of out 10 for their ability to provide a safe environment.
2. Quality Teachers Children experience a wide range of relationships at school, but the core ones are with peers and teachers. Parents want warm teachers who they can reach easily. “Teachers who really care about their students” (98%) is the aspect of schools that ACSI parents are most likely to say is essential (tied with safety at 98%), followed closely by “accessible teachers,” which slightly fewer (94%) said was a necessity. Likewise, almost all prospective parents believe caring and accessible teachers (91 and 80 percent, respectively) are essential to schooling.
Parents—especially of ACSI students—generally want small class sizes for their children (current: 63%, prospective: 49%). It seems likely this aspect of a school might indicate to parents that their child will get the personal attention from teachers that nearly all deem crucial.
Parents whose children are in private Christian schools tend to rank their experience with the schools very highly. Almost six in 10 (59%) give their current school a 10 of out 10 for “Teachers who really care about their students” and over half (52%) give the same ranking to “accessible teachers.” For prospective parents, almost four in 10 (38%) gave a 10 out of 10 for “Teachers who really care about their students” and about one-third (34%) gave the same rating for “accessible teachers.”
3. Academic Excellence Academic excellence is a top priority for parents of both current and prospective Christian school students. Nearly all current Christian school parents(95%)say it is essential. For prospective parents, that number is slightly lower, at 88 percent. Surprisingly, parents do not consider academic excellence more important as their children grow older and closer to the window for college admissions.
Current ACSI parents rate their schools quite well for academic excellence. More than one-third (38%) give their schools a 10 out of 10. Altogether, 86 percent rate the school a seven or above, and more than two-thirds of current parents choose “fosters excellence” to describe private Christian schools—ranking them far above other types of schools.
Fewer prospective parents share that view. They give lower scores to private Christian schools, with 29 percent saying that Christian private schools have the highest academic standards. It is not clear where this difference in perceptions comes from, except that those with a personal experience of ACSI schools have a much higher view of the schools’ academics.
4. Character Development & Spirituality Current and prospective parents both also give high priority to “intentionally developing children’s character” (current: 94%, prospective: 73%). But in addition, current parents especially desire spiritual development for their children. This reinforces the above findings showing how most current Christian school parents believe that character and spiritual development are among the ultimate purposes of education.
When it comes to spiritual formation specifically, more than eight in 10 (82%) parents of current students believe it is essential when weighing a choice between different schools, but only one-quarter of parents of prospective students(26%) feel the same.
It seems that ACSI schools (private Christian schools) fulfill these expectations, especially for current parents. More than half of parents of current students gave Christian schools the highest score (10 of 10) for being deliberate about developing children’s character (59%) and spirituality (66%). In both categories, over 97 percent of parents give the schools a score higher than six out of 10.
Prospective parents rank Christian schools much lower on these two measures (35% gave a perfect 10 of 10 for character development and 42% gave a 10 of 10 for spiritual development). However, about three-quarters of prospective parents gave a score of six of 10 or better on those two dimensions of spiritual development.
About the Research A sample of ACSI schools invited parents to participate in these surveys. To qualify, parents had to have a decision-making role in their children’s education and to have at least one child enrolled in an ACSI school. The prospective parent survey went to a nationally representative group of adults who had children in grades K–11 (those with seniors in high school and no other children were not included). To be counted in the survey, they had to indicate that they would be open to sending their child to a private Christian school. There was no restriction on the religion of these parents. While this survey was offered to a nationally representative group, the group that met the qualifications was also different from an average collection of American parents. Read the full research report at ACSI.
Barna research is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.
During the final episode of Season One of the fictional and controversial Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why, the main character, high school junior Hannah Baker, requests a meeting with school counselor, Mr. Porter. She tells him she’s “lost,” and “doesn’t care about anything” anymore, and that she “needs everything to stop.” She’s a young woman sliding into the abyss of hopelessness, and the thoughts of suicide that follow.
Clever, funny, and beautiful Hannah is beleaguered by a series of personal and public calamities, most revolving around bullying and a horrific rape. The difference between the two isn’t as vast as many think. Both dehumanize their target, and include the lust for, and pleasure gained from, power, domination, and control.
Hannah Baker is confused, and at times despondent, before Porter. The fire behind her glamorous and hazel-blue eyes fades to embers. She’s still breathing, but she’s dying inside.
Before deciding to take her life, she records how, after leaving Porter’s office, she waited to see if he would throw open his dark, walnut-colored office door to pursue and rescue her. But his phone rings. Again. Concerned about Hannah, but over-worked, he takes the call instead.
“No one is coming forward to stop me” from killing herself, she says. The music at this point is ominous, but in a positive way, as if to celebrate and even glorify her ensuing suicide. The soundtrack makes her decision sound and feel heroic.
As someone who works with thousands of youth each year to diminish bullying, and tired of speaking with mothers destroyed by their child’s decision to kill themselves due at least in part to bullying, I wish that scene never appeared, because otherwise deft Hannah Baker handed agency of her life to another, a lethal mistake that some youth won’t notice.
Others aren’t responsible for our mental health. Yet at the same time, others do influence it, especially bullies, which is an important and lost message this series offers us, a series even elementary school-aged children are watching.
In addition to our current campaign to reverse the thoughts of glorifying suicide, we should also use this Netflix series as an opportunity to battle adolescent bullying, the leading cause of child abuse in our nation.
We should explain how serial targets are two to nine times more likely to consider suicide. We should reveal to children and adults how being cruel, mean and even wicked helps children gain and maintain social status, especially during the middle-school years. In an attempt to grow needed empathy, we should explain how a female serial target like Hannah is 25 times more likely to develop agoraphobia than her non-bullied peers, ruining adult lives.
In order to return the needed stigma to bullying, and get the attention of serial bullies, we should explain how they are far more likely to go to prison after graduation and abuse their future spouse and children.
But most importantly, we should use 13 Reasons Why to show how standing up to bullying represents the best in human nature by promoting the virtue of kindness, but not just any form of kindness. We must promote courageous kindness, because as the late Maya Angelou explained, “Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.”
We must tell true stories of heroic kindness bolstered by courage, the kind a young mother named Lisa told me about recently. Before graduating from high school three years ago, she noticed how a boy she didn’t really know was being bullied at lunchtime by five girls. Lisa became angry and indignant, which helped fuel her courage to invite the young man to sit with her and her friends during lunch for the remainder of the school year.
What Lisa didn’t know, until three years later after meeting the boy’s mother, was that he was planning to kill himself. He created a suicide box, which contained a cord to hang himself, a suicide note, and keepsakes that he wanted his mother to cherish. She found it in his room and tearfully confronted her son when he returned from school. He told his mother that he wasn’t going through with it. He told her about kind and courageous Lisa.
“We are the inheritors of a coarsened society…A coarse place is by definition anti-child because it is anti-innocence,” writes Peggy Noonan. I believe bullying will get worse across the nation due to our coarsening society. But it will get better in pockets of resistance. Let’s use 13 Reasons Why to grow our resistance, by creating more students like Lisa, who stand up to bullying and in the process save the lives of real-life Hannah Bakers.
Interested in starting a bullying prevention program at your school? Here’s who to include and what to consider.
With research suggesting as many as one in three U.S. students are bullied at school,many educators are eager to find ways to make their buildings safe. Bullying affects not only the person being bullied but also the bully and bystanders, creating an environment in which it’s difficult to learn and succeed.
When setting up a bullying prevention program, experts says it’s important to have strong leadership from the top along with grassroots buy-in. Programs don’t have to cost a lot of money. It can take time and personnel to set up policies and reporting mechanisms, but a committed team can make progress and the effort is worth it.
Here are eight things to consider when embarking on a bullying prevention program:
1. Be comprehensive.
Bullying is a complex issue that emerges in homes, schools and communities as kids model adult behavior. Efforts to address it should be developmentally appropriate and include all invested parties. Jessica Toste, assistant professor in the college of education at the University of Texas in Austin, suggests asking for input from teachers from different grade levels and content areas, administrators, mental health professionals, students, other school staff members and perhaps a parent or community member. It may start with a big assembly, but the conversation needs to continue in the classroom with teachers, among student groups, and at home with families to build trusting relationships at all levels.
2. Accentuate the positive.
Rather than anti-bullying, frame the effort as one that promotes a positive school culture and acceptance. “The majority of teachers and administrators want their schools to be environments that are safe and positive and affirming for their students,” says Toste. In addition to academic skills, schools are increasingly seeing the value of promoting social-emotional learning – teaching kids how to regulate their emotions, demonstrate compassion, and accept people from different backgrounds and cultures. With that climate as the foundation, bullying can become less of an issue.
3. Commit to the long term.
Research shows that for bullying prevention efforts to work, schools should commit to programs for the long-term. “It’s something that needs to be in place regularly because these aren’t issue that we clean up and then everything is better. They are issues with humans interacting and kids learning,” says Toste. One example of an ongoing effort is the Reaching Out with Character and Kindness—or ROCK—program at Keller Independent School District in northern Texas, now entering its fourth year. ROCK is both proactive, with staff and student training, as well as reactive, with a process to report and investigate bullying incidents, says Laura Lockhart, coordinator of student services at Keller. The steering committee is a standing committee that recognizes the importance of committing to the long-term culture. “Bullying is not going away after doing one exciting assembly. It’s something that is deeper than that,” says Lockhart. “Reaching out with character and kindness is just part of who we want to be.”
4. Customize to fit your needs.
The committee at Keller worked together to come up with a mission and vision for ROCK. Students helped come up with the acronym and logo. “Whenever you get something out of a box, it doesn’t meet all of the unique needs of your community,” says Lockhart. “It was very important that it was designed with Keller ISD in mind … getting as many voices involved was crucial.”
5. Get buy-in from the cool kids.
Bullying is often linked to social status and is perpetrated by some of the most popular kids in school. Paul Coughlin, who speaks about bullying in schools and is the founder of Medford, Oregon-based nonprofit The Protectors, says any efforts to stem bullying need to include kids who are in positions of power and hold up a mirror to show the reality of what they are doing. “Many of these kids are aware they are being cruel, but many are not aware of the extent of their cruelty,” says Coughlin. “Unfortunately, they don’t have the necessary empathy and sympathy for the child that they are bullying.” Sometimes showing bullies a video of another bullying incident and explaining that what they are doing is similar can resonate, suggests Coughlin.
6. Make a splash.
Messages that promote a positive school culture need to be visible in classes, hallways and in the community. At Keller ISD, a special merchandise committee sells fun items, such as bracelets and T-shirts, with the ROCK logo to promote the brand and program, says Lockhart. The communications committee makes sure ROCK is talked about on Twitter and through newsletters. Experts add that free materials are available to distribute from websites such as StopBullying.gov.
7. Get a handle on the problem.
Consider surveys of students to truly evaluate the school climate and effectiveness of programs, suggests Toste of the University of Texas. Ask how students feel about safety and if they have someone in the building they feel they can go to if they are in need. Compare results before and after initiatives have been launched to fine-tune the work.
8. Set up a good reporting system.
Setting up a process to report and track bullying can be a powerful tool, experts suggest. To make sure the response to bullying is appropriate, Keller ISD set up an investigation process aimed at getting the entire story so the solution can be informed and keep everyone safe, says Lockhart. Schools also may want to consider an anonymous reporting system, suggest Coughlin. Some apps, such as Stopit, can make reporting easier and cut down on bullying.
As for the future, Coughlin predicts the bullying landscape will get worse with the lack of civility in broader society and with negative politics this campaign season. Still, it will get better in pockets of resistance and with support from concerned parents, he says. Schools that get it right and become known for taking the issue seriously can find it’s an opportunity to attract students, adds Coughlin.
“You can’t educate well with the presence of bullying,” says Coughlin. “Having the presence of bullying in the classroom and trying to teach is like having a gas leak. There are going to be a few kids who can do it, but they are going to be surviving, not thriving. They are just trying to make it through the day.”