Break it up
Bullying can devastate lives — one congregation is using funds from the Peacemaking Offering to break the cycle of violence
By Gail Strange
The vast majority of teens across America today use Facebook, Twitter and other social media to connect with their friends. While many of these interactions are harmless and even positive, some cause lasting damage.
Bullies, for example, use social media forums to reach beyond schoolyards and neighborhood street corners into the digital lives of their young victims. While bullies traditionally have engaged in verbal and physical assaults, technology now gives them opportunities for online bashing 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“Bullying is a national problem,” says Jennifer Warner, associate pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Bend, Ore. Her congregation has joined forces with a local high school to address this issue that is plaguing communities across the country. First Church members have found that offering support to teens as they make the difficult transition to high school can reduce incidents of bullying.
The congregation donated its share of funds from the Peacemaking Offering to set up a mentoring program at Bend Senior High School. The project pairs seniors with incoming students to ease the transition by helping the new students through their first year of high school. Funds given by the church helped train school staff members and provide materials for the year’s activities through a national program called Link Crew. Sponsors of the mentoring effort believe the culture at Bend Senior High will become healthier as more students become involved in the program.
“We wanted to reach out to make a positive change in our community,” Warner says. “The partnership with Bend High is one way we can help reach young people in neighborhoods across the city to let them know that someone cares.”
Bullying is not just a harmless pursuit or rite of passage. It can have long-term and even deadly effects—for the child who has been a target of bullying and for bullies and bystanders as well. Statistics from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services reveal that kids who are bullied show an increase in depression, loneliness, health issues, suicidal thoughts and changes in sleeping and eating patterns, as well as a decrease in grade point average and test scores.
The statistics show that kids who are bullies are more likely to:
- Abuse alcohol and drugs
- Get into fights, vandalize property and drop out of school
- Engage in sexual activity at an earlier age
Adults who bullied other kids in school are more likely to commit crimes and traffic violations and to abuse loved ones.
Bullying is not just a harmless pursuit or rite of passage. It can have long-term and even deadly effects—for the child who has been a target of bullying and for bullies and bystanders as well.
Although definitions of bullying vary, most agree that it involves an imbalance of power, the intent to cause harm and repeated offenses. Bullying is not limited to people of a certain age, gender, education level or geographic location, and it can start as early as preschool.
In a 2011 survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, one in five teens reported being bullied the previous year. Most bullying occurs when adults are not present. Black eyes, bloody lips or torn clothing may signal to parents that something is wrong. But these telltale signs are not present when bullying takes the form of devastating mind games. Many students use text messaging, Facebook, Twitter and chat rooms or create websites to disgrace and put down other students. The damage done by cyberbullies is no less real than physical attacks and can be more painful.
Statistics from the National Association of School Psychologists are even more sobering: 160,000 students per day stay home from school because of bullying, and more than 90 percent of school shootings involve male perpetrators who were relentlessly tormented by bullies who accused them of being not manly enough or not aggressive enough. A Safe School Initiative study conducted in 2002 by the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education found that school shootings are rarely impulsive acts, but are typically planned. In most cases, other students knew the shootings were about to occur but did not alert an adult. In addition, prior to most shootings, an adult saw a behavior that caused concern but either did nothing or was unable to prevent the shootings.
As participants in the Bend, Ore., mentoring program have learned, the most effective efforts to reduce bullying involve collaboration among parents, students, school and community. All parties must take responsibility for standing up and speaking out against bullying. To bring about lasting change, it is especially important that students be given a voice and an active role.
“Studies have proven that a positive experience during the first year of high school greatly increases a student’s chances of success,” says Jan McKnight, who teaches health and physical education and serves as activities director at Bend Senior High School. Seniors who have successfully navigated the challenges of high school can serve as positive role models for the younger students.
By providing a structure for students to connect with one another, the mentoring program also helps break down the social barriers that sometimes contribute to bullying. The seniors chosen to be mentors, or Link Crew leaders, are not necessarily the most popular, most athletic or most academically successful but represent a cross-section of the student body. The goal is to give as many new students as possible a Link Crew leader they can identify with, so that ultimately they will start to see themselves as leaders as well.
By involving students from different backgrounds, races and social groups, the program gives students who would otherwise not interact with each other a common purpose. Working toward shared goals diminishes the animosity that might exist among diverse groups.
“The partnerships and relationships formed through this program,” says McKnight, “help students realize that people at school and in the community care about them and their success.”
Gail Strange is a communications associate for the Presbyterian Mission Agency of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Learn more about bullying and how to prevent it
- Bullying in the Classroom and Bullying: Sticks, Stones, E-mails and Texts, one-session studies for adults, and The Real Consequences of Bullying, a one-session study for youth.
- Find training and information for parents, educators and students from Utterly Global, an organization that helps create safe educational and social environments:.
- Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Child Advocacy programs and networks.
At a glance | Peacemaking Offering
By giving to the Peacemaking Offering, Presbyterians can help put a stop to the adverse effects of bullying on children and communities and answer the call of Romans 12:18: “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Most congregations receive the offering on World Communion Sunday, the first Sunday in October, which this year is October 7.
What’s new for 2012? A four-week pilgrimage called “Season of Peace,” Sept. 9–Oct. 7, is designed to deepen the pursuit of peace in congregations, small groups, families and individuals. For daily peace reflections, family activities, Bible studies, youth activities, resources for planning an intergenerational peace fair and other materials.
How does your gift help? Giving to the Peacemaking Offering is a concrete way to contribute to both local and national peacemaking efforts. The offering funds the work of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, which includes hosting groups of International Peacemakers, organizing conferences, advocating for nonviolent solutions to conflicts and equipping all Presbyterians to live out their faith in the midst of challenge and violence.
Where does the money go? Each congregation may retain 25 percent of the offering for local ministries of peacemaking; 25 percent is used by presbyteries and synods; 50 percent provides the primary source of funding for the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program.
How have congregations used their 25 percent of the offering? Here are some of the ways:
- To work with a local high school to help students understand the consequences of bullying and prevent it
- To create a “home” for individuals who have fallen prey to human trafficking
- To start a nationwide movement asking legislators for more civil political discourse
- To provide weekend meals for low-income families
- To support a camp for children with Asperger’s syndrome
- To support an anger management program for young men
For more information or to give online by credit card, visit the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program website.