Joe and Kortnie’s 7-year-old son headed to his Clovis elementary school one morning sporting brand-new shoes in his favorite color, red. But when Kortnie picked him up that afternoon, their middle child was visibly upset, and his shoes were covered in dirt. He had been bullied by a classmate.
As millions of children head back to school this year, more than one in five of them will have a similar experience, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. And in a national study by the Cyberbullying Research Center, nearly 21 percent of tweens said they had been a target, aggressor or witness to bullying online or by other electronic means.
As parents search for ways to protect their children, a growing group of families are turning to an unlikely source for practical guidance: the Bible. Joe and Kortnie, who are Jehovah’s Witnesses, regularly talk with all three of their children about challenges they may face at school and how scriptural principles can guide them.
“These Bible principles — love, forgiveness, being peaceful — prepare them for the world that we’re living in,” Joe said. “They teach them how they need to treat others and how they should be treated.” The couple also encouraged their young son to pray, walk away from the bully, and find an adult at school who can help. They also went to jw.org, the Witnesses’ official website, where a search for the term bullying brought up a wealth of free resources including videos, articles, worksheets and other online activities on topics young people face at school.
Those resources include a whiteboard animation entitled, “Beat a Bully Without Using Your Fists” and an animated cartoon about the powerful effect of prayer for those who are being bullied. The cartoon, in particular, left a deep impression on Joe and Kortnie’s children. Their son, who was being bullied, said it helped him with prayer and confidence.
Madison of Clifton, New Jersey, also turned to the Scriptures when a cyberbully started harassing her in the eighth grade with dozens of disturbing notifications on her cell phone. “It was really crazy. He was sending me pictures of my house. I was really paranoid all the time,” she said.
Reading the Bible and praying calmed her anxiety. “It’s just you and God, and you’re just talking one-on-one,” she said. “It’s very comforting, and it works.”
She also followed the practical steps outlined in the jw.org whiteboard animation “Be Social-Network Smart” to protect herself. She told her parents and teachers about the situation and deleted the social media account her bully had targeted. “I still don’t have that account to this day,” said Madison, now 21.
“Not every situation resolves so easily. But applying the Bible’s advice and focusing on the big picture can help individuals cope and maintain their sense of self-worth,” said Robert Hendriks, U.S. spokesperson for Jehovah’s Witnesses. “The Bible has proven to be a practical resource for many families to navigate difficult situations in life,” said Hendriks. “The principles found in this ancient book can help adults and children resolve conflict and maintain peaceful relationships with others.” Principles like the so-called Golden Rule of treating others as you would want to be treated, showing love and being slow to anger are tools Kortnie said help her family in many circumstances.
“If you’re getting the tools to be loving, kind and peaceable, that’s going to resonate with you — and it’s going to be who you become,” she said.