Is It Bullying Or Something Else?
Recently received a phone call from a mother whose teen was bullied at an event we were hosting. The news was completely shocking to me because recently God has placed a burden on my heart to fight bullying. The mother explained to me everything that her son had told her, but as the conversation rolled on I began to notice that the situation wasn’t so black and white. In other words it wasn’t so clear if this was a case of bullying or jawing that had gone too far. Realizing that this couldn’t be resolved over the phone I asked for the three of them to come in so that we could talk about it in person. They agreed and what we discovered was not a case of bullying; but, a situation where barriers and lines were crossed on both sides.
This situation made me think about how easy it is for us to jump to a conclusion when emotions are high.
I’m not saying bullying isn’t a big issue. It’s a huge issue, one I take very seriously. However, it’s one that needs to be approached in a prudent manner, or else we risk could pointing too many fingers. Or not enough.
If you suspect someone is being bullied, or someone comes to you claiming to be a victim, consider taking the following steps:
Encourage Objective Conversation
When attempting to unravel a potential bullying situation, many things can happen. The victim could blame himself or herself. Someone could be dishonest about what happened. The wrong person could be assigned blame. And so on . . . Encouraging objective conversation tries to find agreement on the facts ahead of emotions. As best you can, get the whole picture before you start diving deeper into the story behind the story.
Bring In A Third Party
Bring in someone who will hold you accountable to being objective. Your familiarity with either (or both) the victim or the accused bully could impair your ability to think as clearly as you could or should. Have someone present whose responsibility is to make sure you are hearing and thinking objectively.
Bring In The Parents
While it’s important to talk individually with each participant, it’s also vital to have a conversation with the parents as well. Just as you need accountability, the parents should be given the chance to do the same with their child. Parents can pick up on cues that you may miss. These cues will be the link to diving deeper into the root of the problem. After all, you want to discover whether or not this is a one-time incident or a reoccurring theme.
Develop An Action Plan
Never end a conversation without having at least one, tangible action step. With a lack of follow up the problems won’t disappear. Instead they’ll escalate into something bigger. As difficult as it might be, lean in and walk with the family. This might mean setting up a meeting between both sides with you as the mediator, or checking in to see if the problem continues. Or it might mean bringing in professional help.
My goal in all of this is to take bullying seriously, but to realize that there is always a story beneath the story. If the issue is truly bullying, the goal is to immediately alleviate the problem, but to also create a system where the victim (and his or her family) is equipped to overcome this obstacle. If the situation is horseplay that’s gone to far, by doing your diligence, you’ll be able to address it without knee-jerk reactions or overly harsh punishments.
I’d love to know how you handle bullying in your ministry?