Last week’s blog gave an overview of the problem of mass murder and school shootings. This week I’ll focus on school shootings and the main underlying cause which is bullying. Bullying is a wide subject, because it encompasses a lot more than most people realize. It’s actually a subcategory of conflict, both mental and physical, that is found in the bully. Stopping school shootings requires a two-pronged response of working with the bully and working with their victims. It is the victims that turn out to be school shooters.
Bullying comes in many forms found in four main categories: verbal; physical; psychological; and cyberbullying. Most people usually think of the physical aspect of bullying, the fighting, kicking, pushing, hitting, thefts, hazing, inappropriate touching and threats made by the aggressor or a pack of aggressors But that is only a small part of the problem. Psychological bullying includes verbal attacks on a person’s intelligence, physical looks, being a “nerd”, discrimination in gender norms or countless other derogatory statements made over and over. Emotional bullying includes any acts or failures to act that harm the victims’ psyche and emotional wellbeing. This includes ignoring a person on purpose, belittling, saying hurtful things, harassing and taunting. Gradeschool bullying occurs most often on the playground, while junior high and high school incidents happen most often in hallways, which are usually not well monitored.
The fastest-growing form of bullying is cyberbullying through sites like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and others. It is almost impossible for social media sites to effectively police all of their members because of the millions of users on each site. Cyberbullying needs to be reported by the victim right away to parents and the site being used by the bully. In extreme cases the police or the FBI should be called.
All of the psychological and emotional forms of aggression found in person to person bullying are found online. Forty percent of adolescents report being bullied online, and 95 percent of teens report having witnessed cyber attacks on social media. And, 15 percent of college students report being victimized. Most attacks occur after school hours and off-campus. School authorities trying to intervene in these attacks have been sued by the bullies’ parents for restricting their child’s freedom of speech rights and other claims.
The signs of a bully are getting into physical and verbal fights often, being repeatedly sent to the principal’s office, having bullying friends, and becoming more aggressive. They are often persons who have been bullied in the past. Students displaying one or more of these characteristics need to be carefully monitored by school authorities.
Bullies perceive having power over others, and that their victims are lesser people, and they intend the harm caused by their actions. It’s a way for the bully to compensate for feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness. They bully to “be somebody”, to gain notoriety and feel important. Bullies are often previous victims of other bullies who are sometimes their parents or siblings. Their home life can be a significant contributing factor.
The signs of victimization include being overly apologetic, unexplained injuries, anxiety and PTSD, changes in eating habits, declining grades, school absences and self-injury. It is crucial to spot the victims of bullying and help them not only for their well-being, but because it is the victims that are the most dangerous. It is the victims that become the school shooters. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the Columbine, Colorado shooters, were victims of bullying. And, they told students they liked to leave the building. Other school shooters who may have been victims of abuse by their peers include Charles Andrew Williams, Eric Hainstock, Seung-Hu Cho, Wellington Menezes Cruz and Jeff Weise. School authorities- and other students as we’ll see below- need to be attentive to students displaying these signs.
Students at the Highland School in Albuquerque, New Mexico, are afraid that a shooting may happen at their school. And nationwide, 85 percent of students rightfully believe that bullying is a cause of shootings. Only a small percentage of victims become shooters, but the possibility exists that an incident could happen in any school. It is necessary for both the authorities and students to take a proactive approach to preventing incidents from occurring. And, it is the other students that can be the most effective in not only preventing violence, but in helping both the bullies and victims to become better people. That is also important.
Christian students are in a unique position to help both the aggressors and victims. Christ focused on the downtrodden and the infirm. He witnessed to all those he helped. When John the Baptist was in prison he sent a question to Jesus asking whether He was really the Messiah. Jesus said to go tell John that “the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them” (Matthew 11:5; emphasis added). The disciples went out with the Lord’s help and preached to everyone (Mark 16:20). When a woman anointed Jesus’ head with oil, in preparation for His burial, His disciples were indignant. They said the anointing was a waste. Jesus replied, Assuredly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her (Matthew 26:6-13; Mark14:3-9; John12:2-8).
Christians are to follow the example Christ set for us. This includes helping both bullies and victims. The foundation for helping is to show both groups that they do have worth and are valued. They are somebody. This doesn’t mean making them best friends, but it does mean respectfully interacting with members of both groups and showing them that they are cared about. Most importantly in interacting, it is vital to set a Christian example for both groups. As I stress often, we are Christ’s ambassadors here on earth, and as such others can see Christ only by how we live our lives.
In business, marketing consultants are starting to realize that a brand isn’t just the business’s projected image, it is the owner’s and employees’ treatment of customers that is the brand. The slogan “be your brand” is starting to circulate in business circles (and about time). In other words, do what I say and not what I do doesn’t work for long in business. No slogan and graphic design will overcome a bad reputation among customers. Likewise, God gets an undeserved bad reputation among the unsaved population if what they see in you isn’t the example Christ set for you. Jesus said He is the light of the world, and with Him in us, His light shines out to the world so that others will want what we have. And that is Christ Himself (James 1:17,18; Proverbs 4:18; 15:30; Matthew 5:13-16; 6:22-24; 7:13,14). He gave us the great commission to go forth into all the world and preach the gospel (Matthew 28: 18-20), which is best done by setting an example as a foundation for witnessing.
Schools are a secular setting and public schools are government-operated. Our Supreme Court has utilized some strange logical contortions and slights of tongue and pen to incorrectly separate church and state. The First Amendment to the Constitution prohibits only the formation of a government-sponsored religion. It says nothing of mentioning Christ or the Bible in schools. That being said, no legal prohibition exists for communicating and living according to Christian principles of conduct and the treatment of others. Both school officials and students can treat bullies and their victims as Jesus would have treated them. He will shine through you without your having to mention Him or the Bible.
Students, of course, can witness outside of the school property and time. And to a limited extent, they can witness during school sessions. Different states and school systems have differing regulations about students bringing Bibles to school and wearing crosses. That should not be a problem so long as the rights of others are not infringed upon. My own view-and I don’t have facts or statistics here- is that the reason some school officials are so strict about not bringing Bibles to school or the wearing of Christian jewelry is that they are not Christians and they are sensitive about their position. Whatever the reason, it is safer for all to approach bullies and victims without directly witnessing to them. Be your brand. Be as Christ-like as possible to everyone, but especially to bullies and their victims. To bullies to stop the creation of more victims, and to victims to help them overcome the effects of bullying, which in turn will stop school shootings. Remove the impetus, the reason and motives, and there is no cause for misplaced violence. Both groups of people need to be helped, and tomorrow morning is a good time to start.