When Jada’s mom called my wife, Abbey, she tearfully told her about how Jada had been on Facebook and suddenly started crying. When Jada’s mom, Julie, asked her what was wrong, Jada told her that several girls got into a chat session with her and started berating her after a recent cheerleading tryout. Jada had not made the squad, and the girls had decided to let her know all about why they thought she had missed her opportunity. She was not pretty enough, too fat, not coordinated, and couldn’t remember the cheers. They left nothing out!
Michael was the preacher’s kid. He was, if anything, a little taller than most preteen boys. He was athletic, happy, and a pretty nice kid to be around. For some reason, though, he often found himself in situations in which he would be bullied. One night, we were having a fast food fellowship when a preteen broke line in front of Michael. Having had enough, I watched helplessly as Michael positioned himself to punch the other kid square in the stomach. I got over as soon as I could, but it was too late. Michael threw the punch, and now I had two big issues to deal with.
Both of these stories are true and are classic examples of the type of bullying preteen boys and girls are facing. Through my experiences ministering to preteens, I’ve come to realize that both boys and girls face bullying, but often in very different ways. Here are some things you can do to help your preteens fight the bully battle.
1. Educate parents about the dangers of online social networks.
Age restrictions or not, preteens are on Facebook. The truth is, they are not old enough to be on Facebook. I’m Facebook friends with the preteens in my ministry because they need all of the help they can get when it comes to avoiding dangerous situations. If you are dealing with preteens on social networking site, make sure parents are putting up proper safeguards.
2. Diffuse the situation early.
Let’s face it, most of the time you can look at a preteen and pretty much tell if he or she is a good bully target. Targets will often be smaller than average, of slightly less than or more than average intelligence, or of a different social class than the majority of your group. Girls are more likely bullied when they have been singled out of a clique as the “odd girl.” Boys are more likely bullied when they have limited or no interest in athletics. Recently, an increasing number of bullied preteens are ones that have gender-identification issues. Consider buddying the “easy” targets with other preteens in your ministry who have demonstrated compassionate spirits.
3. Don’t forget the bully.
There are certain characteristics that make a child more apt to being a bully. One of the main reasons is a low self-esteem. A bully feels an intense need to control situations and to put down other kids before he is bullied himself. Recognize the bully’s self-worth. Show him attention. Help him to know that he is valued in your eyes and God’s.
Choose a ministry curriculum which addresses real issues preteens are facing. This was our goal when creating FLYTE: faith. life. together. Help preteens realize that bullying doesn’t always include violence. Cyber bullying, verbal abuse, and text message bullying can be just as destructive as a violent bully attack. Help preteens know that you are a safe resource if they are either being bullied or are the bullies. Be the first line of defense in preventing children from fighting in the bully battle.
I hope that you recognize the bully issue within your own ministry. It’s easy to think that it won’t happen to the preteens you teach, but I’m sure that the many preteens and teens who have recently turned to suicide as a result of bullying never thought they would be bullied either. You can help prevent bullying. You can minister to the bully and the bullied. What are you going to do to stop the bullying epidemic?
Stories of Preteen Bullying in the News
- 6 Teenagers Are Charged After Classmate’s Suicide
- 13-year-old Joshua boy’s apparent suicide linked to bullying
- ‘Sexting’ bullying cited in teen’s suicide
- Bullying linked to half of suicides among 10- to 14-year-olds
Jeff Land is the Editorial Project Leader for LifeWay|Preteens. He seeks to minister to churches and preteens by providing top-quality curriculum that is relevant to the issues preteens face on a daily basis. He teaches preteens every week at First Baptist Church in Joelton, TN.