Monday, May 18, 2009

Childhood Bullies: What The Church Can Do

Childhood bullies still roam the halls and playgrounds of our schools. Human nature, being what it is, will always desire the thrill of power, one-up-man-ship, the need to be top-dog, a craving for control. At the core, that is what sin iswanting ME to be in charge rather than God. The drive for power is more of a temptation for some than others. Children who are victimized from abuse, divorce, neglect or other bullies will often fight against their feelings of helpless and being out-of-control by seeking to find power elsewherein the form of bullying.

The good news is that schools no longer tolerate one child intimidating another child. In-service training in child abuse, mental illness and bullying is required for all teachers in the state of Ohio. Furthermore, schools across the country are finding that when character education is taught in school, incidences of bullying and violencegoes down and test scores go up.

Character education! What a novel idea! It’s what the church has been trying to do for years! Yet I see a dangerous trend in church curriculum that leaves us bypassing this important thrust of what the church ought to be doing. More and more, I see content focusing on what God does rather than what our responsibility is to God and our neighbor. Look at the one sentence description of lessons in this summer’s selection of VBS packets. Many of them tell the children such things as “God loves you,” “God cares for you,” or “God protects you.” I like one particular company’s theme because each daily thrust is something the child can do“Go Lead,” “Go obey.” It’s tangible. It’s applicable.

I’m not saying instruction about the nature of God is not important! We need a balance of both. Because of the vacuum left when the church and the home don’t do their job, the schools have had to insert character education into an already full schedule. Yet the church is the expert on character or moral education. There’s one big reason we ought to be the ones teaching this stuff. We hold the reason why! Why be kind? Why be responsible? Why respect others instead of attempting to rule others? Because God says so. Because God is the one ultimately in charge. Because God has been kind to us. Because God, ruler of the universe, has set certain rules or guidelines for mankind to follow and frankly, He’s got a better idea.

I applaud the Ohio character education curriculum. They acknowledge that public schools are not the exclusive teachers of character education. They freely admit that children need to hear how to treat others from the home and from religious and community organizations.

Let’s step up to the challenge. Let’s redouble our efforts to ground our kids in righteous behavior. Yes, we need to teach them who God is and how Jesus died for them, but we also need to teach them the “so-what?” response. We need to teach them and show them how to live godly lives. When we have troubled youths come to our programs, we need to have the courage to have a no-tolerance policy regarding teasing, hitting, intimidation and other demeaning behavior. The church, of all places, needs to become a safe haven.

We also need to listen to our kids. What is happening in school, at home, on the ball field? We need to give our students the tools they need to cope with life in the real world. The “nice” kids are often targets of bullies because they won’t fight back. I think we need to teach our young people how to stand up to evil without giving in to the same kind of behavior used against them. If you aren’t supposed to hit back, what do you do? How does a Christian respond to bullying? So, along with teaching our children how to act, we need to teach them how to respond when others don’t act in the way they’ve been taught.

So, where do we start? Look at the lesson you are teaching for next Sunday. After teaching that lesson, what change in behavior do you hope to see in your students? Think about your session last Sunday. What behaviors were expressed that need some work and some change? How are you going to help your kids build their character? Sometimes you can include teaching in a lesson; other times, it’s a matter of coming along side a child and saying, “Hey, we can behave in a different way.”

Sadly, last week, a newscaster castigated our society for becoming a “culture of ridicule.” Let’s work with the schools and parents to reverse that trend. Let’s bring up a generation of young people who treat each other with respect and kindness.

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