Columbia, MO

Families Find Solutions to Bullying From a Surprising Source

Hope Opehem

When Win and Carla’s 14-year-old daughter returned to her eighth-grade classroom during the COVID-19 pandemic, she was confronted with name-calling when she refused to remove her mask. The verbal abuse happened, again and again, eventually including more of her classmates.

The couple’s 16-year-old son earlier had faced a different kind of harassment when he was in 11th grade. “Kids kept taking my lunch,” he said. “It became very frustrating because I wouldn’t get to eat".

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Win and Carla use a scheduled time each week to help their Columbia, Mo., family deal with issues such as bullying.Photo byHope Opehem

As parents search for ways to protect their children, a growing number of families are turning to a surprising source for practical guidance: the Bible.

Carla, who works as a school district administrator and handles bullying cases in her district, knows firsthand how hard dealing with bullying can be. That knowledge, along with the tips she has learned through her study of the Bible, gives her a way to help children facing peer abuse compassionately.

“They’re young and still developing,” she said. “To have tools and resources for them to go to so they don’t have to try to navigate this mess on their own is such a blessing.”

Win and Carla, who are Jehovah’s Witnesses, try to draw out their children every day. In addition, they use a scheduled time each week to share helpful information with their children. The family often goes to jw.org, the Witnesses’ official website, where a search for the term bullying brings up a wealth of free resources including videos, articles, worksheets, and other online activities on topics young people face at school. Those resources include a whiteboard animation entitled, “Beat a Bully Without Using Your Fists” and an animated cartoon about the powerful effect of prayer for those who are being bullied.

After watching the videos, Win said he would ask his children, “’ Hey, did you see anything in there that could apply to what you went through?’ It’s an excellent opportunity to keep a conversation going.”

Both Win and Carla’s children decided to use prayer along with following the Bible’s advice to not retaliate. “I just stayed calm, and I told my parents,” their son said. “And from then on one of the instructors at lunch would come by and make sure I had my lunch, which was really nice.”

His sister also used the tips on bullying found on jw.org, such as confiding in an adult. “I told my counselor because it was an ongoing thing,” she said of the taunting. “Then she let my teacher know to watch out for anything else.”

Madison Bechtle of Clifton, New Jersey, also turned to the Scriptures when a cyberbully started harassing her in the eighth grade with dozens of disturbing notifications on her cell phone. “It was really crazy. He was sending me pictures of my house. I was really paranoid all the time,” she said.

Reading the Bible and praying calmed her anxiety. “It’s just you and God, and you’re just talking one-on-one,” she said. “It’s very comforting, and it works.”

She also followed the practical steps outlined in the jw.org whiteboard animation “Be Social-Network Smart” to protect herself. She told her parents and teachers about the situation and deleted the social media account her bully had targeted. “I still don’t have that account to this day,” said Madison, now 21.

“Not every situation resolves so easily. But applying the Bible’s advice and focusing on the big picture can help individuals cope and maintain their sense of self-worth,” said Robert Hendriks, U.S. spokesperson for Jehovah’s Witnesses.

“The Bible has proven to be a practical resource for many families to navigate difficult situations in life,” Hendriks said. “The principles found in this ancient book can help adults and children resolve conflict and maintain peaceful relationships with others.”

Principles like the so-called Golden Rule of treating others as you’d want to be treated, showing love, and being slow to anger are tools that Win said help his family in many circumstances. “I feel like I’m well-equipped to help my children through these situations,” he said. “I’m very thankful for that.”

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