Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is
the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you. [Deuteronomy 31:6]
When Australian youth Quaden Bayles told his mother recently that he wanted to die because of the relentless taunting he endured as a little person, bullying again made worldwide headlines.
Bullying – which is much easier to accomplish, and more devastating thanks to the ubiquitous presence of social media – remains an important issue for children, educators, and parents. As Catholic parents, we must live the Church’s catechetical teachings on the sanctity of life, which makes clear that bullying is wrong:
“Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the
creative action of God and it remains forever in a special relationship
with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from
its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim
for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being.”
That’s easier said than done, since human nature pits the strong against the weak and teasing is a given as we grow from childhood into adults. Still, even Pope Francis speaks out on the issue, sending a greeting to a 2019 conference on the topic.
“Bullying is a phenomenon of self-compensation, self-assessment, not of finding myself, but of decreasing the other to feel better,” Pope Francis said in his video message. “It means learning to look from top to bottom, and badly.
“…Declare war on bullying, because it diminishes dignity, and stand up for dialogue; walking together, with patience of listening to the other,” he concludes. “The peace will then be strong, and that same strong peace will let you discover your own dignity, your own dignity.”
Catholic child psychologist Margery Arnold says the best way parents can teach their children about bullying is through their actions, not their words. “Children are always watching you,” says Arnold, who coordinates the Diocese of Orange’s Mental Health Ministry.
“Bullying is something to be taken very seriously,” she adds. “Parents who suspect bullying as an issue should seek help with trusted advisers through their school, mental health system, or their parish.”
It’s as important to recognize bullying behavior as well as identifying the victim of bullying, she notes. “Parents should be equally concerned, as both behaviors indicate something might be going wrong.”
Indeed, responsible parenting means teaching our kids to love one another as Jesus has loved us.
Mike Schabert, associate superintendent for the diocese’s Office of Catholic Schools, notes that because Catholic elementary schools have dedicated character development programs, students may experience less bullying than kids in public schools.
“Our curriculum looks for opportunities to expand Catholic teaching beyond the Bible and the sacraments,” Schabert says, “to behavior that is rooted in the golden rule and teaches kids to treat others as they want to be treated.
“We focus on the idea that we’re all part of a community, and when we make a decision it impacts the community,” he adds. “We are not free from the challenge of bullying, but incidents are certainly fewer and far between.”
Catholic parents concerned about bullying should study the body of research online on the topic “adverse child experiences,” says child psychologist Margery Arnold.
Arnold also recommends viewing the movie, “Resilience,” which she can screen in parishes and at workshops. The film, produced by Jamie Redford, provides a compelling look at compassion and what happens when we act out of love. She says it “can change the way you live.”
Contact her at [email protected].