Bullying is gaining more and more attention from researchers, school, parents, lawmakers and others and rightly so. In the last few years, there have been several heartbreaking stories of the effects of bullying and it’s a serious problem we need to address as youth leaders as well.
We can’t pretend bullying doesn’t happen in youth ministry. I should know, I left the teen ministry of my own church as a teen because I was bullied and the leaders did little or nothing to stop it. I still attended my ‘home church’, but I was involved in another church’s youth ministry (one that was way less radical in its message I might add!) because I was accepted there and felt safe.
We need to stop any and all bullying in our youth ministries. But what does an affective anti-bullying policy look like?
Bullying brings status
A recent study resulted in some interesting findings that may have consequences for how we try to prevent and stop bullying. Researchers from UCLA found in a study amongst middle school students that bullying brings social status and popularity. For the bullies obviously, not the ones being bullied. Cool students are more likely to bully and students that bully are seen as cool.
That makes a no-tolerance policy for bullying in your youth ministry not necessarily the best approach. Students don’t stop bullying just because people tell them to, but they may stop if it will hurt their social status.
Here’s what one of the main researchers said about an affective approach:
Effective anti-bullying programs need to focus on the bystanders, who play a critical role and can either encourage or discourage bullying, said Juvonen, who has conducted research on bullying since the mid-1990s and serves as a consultant to schools on anti-bullying programs. Bystanders should be made aware of the consequences of spreading rumors and encouraging aggression and the damage bullying creates, she said. (source)
Implications for youth ministry
What does this mean for youth ministry? What would an effective anti-bullying policy for youth ministry look like?
I think a no tolerance policy is a good first step, but I think we also need to come up with ways to make bullying totally ‘uncool’. Bystanders (meaning other students, the ones who witness the bullying) need to step in and ‘judge’ the students who engage in bullying as not cool.
So how do we do that, anyone have any thoughts?