I’m privileged to have the opportunity to serve on two National educational boards and two statewide educational boards. Many of my closest friends are Presidents, Superintendents, and Heads of Schools all across our great country. One of the greatest values of these relationships is that it allows me to hear about and understand national and statewide concerns among educators. I’m certain you are aware of all the debate and dialogue on education reform, finance, accreditation requirements, and many other issues. However, there is a national conversation happening among educators that I will argue is much more significant:
In light of a bullying epidemic in our culture, are we raising a generation of kids who value relationships, courage, and kindness?
Over the past few years I have developed a relationship with bullying expert Paul Coughlin of the Protectors, an advocacy group that promotes faith-based anti-bullying programs. We invited Paul to our campus at Oklahoma Christian Academy, where I serve as President, a couple of years ago to meet with our students and parents. Our parent seminar on bullying was not well attended. The same poor attendance happened when we brought in an expert on cyber-bullying the year prior. I don’t say this as an indictment of our parents, rather I’m stating a simple belief that I have developed over the past few years: I believe that the vast majority of us, as American parents, tend to only be concerned about bullying when we know our child is being bullied.
What if this paradigm were flipped? What if we were all passionate about bullying? What if we intentionally fostered in our children a healthy, righteous, and biblical attitude toward bullying? What if we encourage our children to be proactive and passionate protectors of targets of bullying, as well as people who act when they see it through assertive and non-violent words and deeds?
What if we intentionally fostered in our children a healthy, righteous, and biblical attitude toward bullying?"
Over Christmas break my wife and I went to the movies and saw Wonder. If you have not seen this movie, you need to see it.
I loved the character Jack Will. He was certainly not perfect. He made mistakes the way all children make mistakes. But especially through his character, this movie did an incredible job of presenting the stress a child faces when trying to navigate the friendships of school. Jack loved Auggie, the main character, born with a severe facial disfigurations. In spite of his love for Auggie, Jack was faced with the tension of having to commit his allegiance to a classmate who was different, marginalized, and bullied. Jack’s heart had been cultivated in such a way that it led him to step up for Auggie in tough situations.
Let me ask you a few fundamental questions as parents who want to see your child be successful, kind, smart, and courageous:
Are you Jack’s parent who reared a child who cares about others?
Do you have a child who everyone likes and seems to be popular? As an educator, I know how such children often don’t bully, yet they are also passive when it comes to stopping the bully [studies show that only about 8% of bystander’s ever do anything to stop bullying]. These popular students struggle with the tension of their need to be liked and often fall in the safe middle. The safe middle is a zone where no real friendships are ever made, and they manage their friendships more than cultivate them.
If this is your child, here is my advice: Be like Jack’s mom and encourage opportunities to foster the practice of courageous kindness, because sometimes in order to be kind to another student, our children must find the strength to disagree with another student. This is why without moral and spiritual courage, we and our children can’t be kind and loving consistently.
Are you Julian’s parent?
Julian is the bully of the story. Frankly, very few parents will identify as Julian's parents, and therein lies another problem. Parents don’t want to admit that they have a child who is the bully. When this denial happens the problem is magnified for everyone involved. I would argue that many parents who watched the conversation between the Principal and Julian's parents thought to themselves how ridiculous Julian's mom was, even though they themselves have acted similarly. Unfortunately, school administrators across the country would agree that this defensive response is more the norm than the exception in our current parental climate. When such parents make excuses for their child who bullies, everyone loses.
If this is you and your child, here is my advice: when another adult articulates a concern that your child is bullying, resist the temptation to defend and/or create excuses. Instead, use that opportunity as a way to mold, teach, and shape your own child. Parents like Julian’s are a major source that causes bullying to be the leading form of child abuse in the nation - and a national epidemic. No kid is perfect. If we parent as if our kids are perfect (albeit unconsciously), then we do them a major disservice.
Are you Auggie’s parent?
Auggie is the child who is different, and she the epicenter of the bullying in the story. Maybe you can relate to Auggie’s parents and your heart broke watching Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson depict your struggle every day.
If this is your child, here is my advice: in Paul Coughlin’s most recent Fox News article on bullying, he provided great advice for these parents.
“Grow your children’s network of friends, and help them be proficient in at least one endeavor, such as a musical instrument, which grows their self-confidence and raises their esteem among their peers.”
Paul is suggesting that you identify a gift in your child and find ways for your child to contribute those gifts to the people around him. In this movie Auggie’s parents did a fabulous job fostering Auggies’ love of science.
Are you raising a consumer or a contributor?
Kindness is not just a nice thing we should teach, it is a fruit of the Spirit that we are called to cultivate. Yet as I mentioned earlier, without courage, kindness can’t be properly cultivated. Courage, the kind needed to stand up against bullying, is required to grow kindness the way fertilizer grows crops. My previous blog posts have directly discussed this generation’s leaning toward consumption and our need to create contributors. Consumption often leads to self-serving behaviors. Ironically, directly after describing the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians, Paul offers this line, “let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” When we raise up a generation of consumers it provides the obstacle of raising up a generation of kind kids. On the contrary, a contributor thinks outside himself. A contributor thinks about what he can do for someone else. A contributor makes a positive impact on society.
Communicate. Listen. Observe.
Does your child stands up against bullying when they witness it? Ask them this week during dinner. Ask them in the car. Ask them whenever you have the time. Keep this topic on your spiritual radar. How your child responds to bullying will tell you some important aspects of what kind of person they are becoming, and what important areas in which they still have room to grow.
Let us hear your contributor story. Periodically, we enjoy offering contributor spotlights and would love to spotlight you or someone you know. Who is making a difference? What children do you know contributing to society in big ways? Let us know through the contact page, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a comment below.