Imagine the following scenario:
An anonymous adult man blackmails a young teenage girl after she makes the mistake of posting revealing pictures of herself on the internet. As a result of this intimidation, the girl develops depression, anxiety and panic disorders, and begins to cut herself. Meanwhile, as she struggles to recover, other students at her school begin physically and verbally attacking her. She attempts suicide and moves to another city, but remains the victim of taunting and abuse through social media. Her depression and anxiety grow deeper, even as professional counseling and antidepressant medication don’t succeed in helping her overcome her struggle. At age 15, she succeeds in killing herself.
Unfortunately, this is the short version of a true story. Thousands of young persons daily suffer this or other forms of physical, verbal, emotional and mental abuse for reasons that, for the most part, are completely out of their control. Bullies target children because they perceive them as being overweight or undersized, too smart or too dumb, too poor or even too rich. They are targeted because of their sexual orientation, their race or ethnicity, or their religious affiliation. This very real form of abuse upon children and young people even sometimes comes at the hands of parents or other trusted adults.
It is our duty as Christians to protect our children from harm, for they "are a heritage from the Lord and… a gift" [Psalm 127:4]. A large measure of this work involves taking responsibility for modeling non-violent patterns of behavior in our own households and communities. As Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori recently testified to Congress, we must commit "to examining our own cultural attitudes toward violence through efforts in our own congregations and communities, to repent of our own roles in the glorification and trivialization of violence, and commit ourselves to another way." Examples of constructive actions to counter a culture of bullying include talking to our children about how to respect others, teaching them about bullying and what to do when they encounter or suffer it, and educating ourselves about proper courses of action when children are made victims of bullying.
The General Convention last summer offered additional suggestions for how The Episcopal Church as a whole might be a leader in addressing bullying through its congregations, dioceses, schools, campus ministries, and counseling centers.
The Diocese of Virginia has taken a particularly active role in compiling resources for how communities and individuals might address bullying.
Further resources for parents, educators, and children of different ages – including curriculum resources – are available from Operation Respect, a non-profit organization working to assure each child and youth a respectful, safe and compassionate climate of learning where their academic, social and emotional development can take place free of bullying, ridicule and violence.