According to Canadian Institutes of Health Research statistics, 47 per cent of Canadian parents report having a child who has been bullied. A 1999 University of British Columbia study showed that 64 per cent of kids between Grades 8 to 10 had been bullied at school. As this grim game of survival of the fittest plays out in schoolyards and cyberspace across the nation, growing numbers of bullied teens turn to drugs, porn, alcohol or cutting in order to cope. Some are driven to suicide. Barbara Coloroso, a leading child expert, suggests that everyone has played the bully, the bullied or the bystander at one time or another. Bullying, she says, touches all of us.
Shane Koyczan is a spoken word poet famous for the “I am Canadian” performance at the Vancouver Olympics’ opening ceremonies. In his passionate poem entitled “To This Day,” Shane addresses the issue of bullying. In the poem Shane tells his own story of being bullied, engages our hearts, opens a conversation, and provokes a response. (An animated video of the poem can be viewed at http://www.tothisdayproject.com.) Hearing his story caused me to remember mine.
When I was seven, I stood with “the new girl” from Hong Kong at the back of the school, away from teachers’ eyes, and watched as my Grade 2 class shoved her to the ground. They called her “slant eyes” and shouted, “Go back! You don’t belong here!” While she sobbed in confusion, they kicked her and screamed at her until the recess bell rang.
When our teacher discovered what had happened, she screamed in disgust at our class. I buried my head on my desk and sobbed in shame. The Chinese girl’s red snow pants were ripped, her jacket torn. My young heart was shredded by the ugliness of my classmates’ hatred and my powerlessness to stop them. I never told my parents.
By Grade 4, I, too, lived in the world of the unaccepted. Recess was a gruelling child-sized stress test as I hugged brown brick walls, staying invisible, hoping the girls wouldn’t see me, that the boys wouldn’t push me down. After school, I hiked the four blocks home as fast as my clumsy feet could go, hoping the boys were too far away to notice me, praying they wouldn’t catch up. One time they did. They grabbed me, spit on my hair and coat, laughed as I shrugged out of their hands, and taunted me with “Bible-back Barill” and “Loser!” Caught up in their sport of humiliation, they cared nothing for my tears. With my head down, I stumbled home to parents who couldn’t fix my mess. Elementary school left me anxious and double-minded, a consummate people pleaser.
Outwardly, I thrived in high school. I enjoyed being on student council and had plenty of friends. Inwardly, I feared that with one wrong word, a bully would emerge and my confidence would burst. I lacked the cool gene, that elusive immunity others seemed to enjoy without effort.
When I found Jesus in 1993, new life began to flow into the deep places of sorrow created during those difficult school days. Now, in my forties, I feel more beautiful than I did in my teens, due in part to my husband’s words of love. Today, my children know that they are loved and that they are beautiful. I hope and pray that knowledge protects them from the bully’s taunts. God only knows.
In his poem, Shane Koyczan calls us to search for the inherent treasure within each human being. To those whose lives have been eroded by the bully’s acid barbs, Shane shouts, “Find another mirror and look again!” Bullying will end when we believe that the inherent beauty in each person is worth defending.
I agree with Shane’s solution. But I believe that powerful, permanent change happens only when we see ourselves through God’s eyes—because what God says about us matters the most.
Jesus Christ understood the pain of labels. His own brothers called Him crazy. The people of his hometown tried to push him off a cliff. Religious leaders declared Him demon-possessed. The people who paraded Him into Jerusalem with shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David!” screamed “Crucify Him!” five days later. People mocked him as He died and, though He heard every word, He responded with forgiveness. He had heard the Father’s words: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17)—and believed them.
True freedom comes when we believe God’s Word. Freedom takes root when we expose the bully’s lies with the truth that God says about us.
The truth is, we are wonderfully and beautifully made (Psalm 139:14). The truth is, we have been the focus of God’s love and pleasure since before the creation of the world (Ephesians 1:4,5). The truth is, Jesus died willingly for you and for me—for the joy of knowing us (Hebrews 12:2). The truth is, despite people’s distorted opinions and harsh words, God hasn’t changed His mind about our worth. God says we were worth sending His Son to die for (John 3:16). Jesus lovingly agreed.
While we may not be able to eradicate bullying, we can fight its poison by believing God’s truth instead of the bully’s lies. God’s truth is the cure, the antidote to the venom. His love tips the scale and resurrects the inherent treasure within each of us. God’s truth empowers us to speak words of life, to challenge the lies that bullies speak.
Bullying is epidemic across our nation. We need a cure. You can vanquish a bully’s lies by declaring to a child, a co-worker, a teacher, a spouse, yourself: “You are loved. You are a treasure. You are beautiful.”
What we speak matters. Start speaking life today.
Jenny Svetec enjoys life on an organic farm with her husband and family. An Eastern Pentecostal Bible College (Master’s College & Seminary) graduate and former licensed minister, Jenny currently attends The Bridge in Pickering, Ont. This article appeared in the January/February issue of testimony, a bimonthly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, and won a 2015 Word Guild award in the Profile/Human Interest category. © 2014 The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.
How can I tell if my child is being bullied?
(From the Government of Alberta website, http://www.bullyfreealberta.ca/tips.htm#1)
Children don’t always tell parents they’re being bullied because they’re embarrassed or afraid that the person who is bullying will get back at them. Children may believe they must remain silent in order to belong. Your child’s behaviour may be a clue to bullying even before they are willing to talk about it. Warning signs include:
- Being afraid to go to school.
- Changing his/her route to school.
- Avoiding the school bus or asking you to drive them to school.
- Complaining about feeling ill in the mornings.
- Skipping school.
- Starting to do poorly in school.
- “Losing” belongings or coming home with clothes or books destroyed.
- Regularly “losing” lunch money (to pay off a bully).
- Coming home with unexplained bruises or cuts.
- Having nightmares.
- Becoming withdrawn.
- Beginning to bully other children.
- Spending time with a teacher or supervisor during recess rather than with other children.
- Attempting or talking about suicide.