My teen daughter has a bully.
At the moment, so do I.
But after spending my childhood and much of my adulthood terrified of these intimidating people, I’ve finally reached a point in my life that I no longer live in fear of them or anyone.
So that’s what I’m teaching my children to do, too.
Just before Thanksgiving break, I got a text from my teen telling me that a girl she had been struggling with all year shoved her out of her seat in class after she wouldn’t give her the chair she was sitting in.
All year long, the bullying has been escalating.
There were comments, control, humiliation and intimidation tactics that built right up to that moment of being shoved out of her seat.
I’m not a helicopter mom. At least I try very hard not to be.
So all year, I reserved action and opinion.
Instead, I allowed my girl the freedom to make choices about how to deal with this behavior from a fellow athlete and classmate. I asked questions about how she was handling it and encouraged her to let the coaches and teachers know what was happening.
I was empathetic and supportive, but not domineering.
She didn’t need two people trying to control her.
Thing was, she was scared – scared of retaliation and other social consequences.
So she kept silent all this time.
When it got to the point of physical violence, that’s when I had to step in.
I get it.
I did the same thing as a kid – keeping quiet, I mean.
I remember being bullied from elementary school all the way up through high school.
In elementary school, I would purposely eat slow so I had to sit at the teachers’ lunch table and miss recess just to avoid the public humiliation of ridicule, name-calling, exclusion from games and other childhood horrors.
In junior high and even high school, I was punched, kicked, shoved into a locker, threatened and gossiped about wickedly. I tried my best to “fight back,” sometimes even engaging these girls physically.
But I hated that. I didn’t want to fight. Not physically or otherwise. That’s just not who I want to be.
I remember one incident where a girl wouldn’t relent in her aggression and I physically fought back, only to find myself tearfully apologizing because she was on the ground crying. It sickened me that I had hurt her.
I had countless episodes of bullying and I never told anyone. Not the teachers, not my parents.
Because like my girl, I knew the code: You tell, it gets worse. You tell, there will be consequences, and they will be bad.
So when I let my daughter know I had to take her bullying issue to the school administration, her response echoed exactly the thoughts I spent my entire childhood thinking.
“I’m sick of being a loser, and you just made it so much worse for me, because she’s going to ruin my life now. She’s gonna get mad at me and start spreading total lies. People already think I’m pathetic, but this is gonna make it worse.”
Oh, sweet girl. I know you. I was you.
For a moment I questioned myself.
But only for a moment.
Because I know that accountability is the only thing that a bully really needs.
If this girl isn’t held accountable, she almost surely will become an adult who bullies, likely even a mom who bullies her own kids.
I know that bullying behavior must always be brought to light in order for it to stop, and that’s true for people of all ages.
There is a woman who is unhappy with me and my decision as a class leader to follow a ministry guideline that put a limit on her that she did not like. The behaviors since then have been quite bully-like in an attempt to assert some type of power or control over me via intimidation and anger.
Before, I would be tempted to run for the hills. Disappear, fade, maybe stop doing the ministry work in an attempt to avoid this person and her wrath.
Instead, I’m following the biblically-laid plan for dealing with conflict in Matthew 18:15.
And I’m not afraid.
I know it’s for the good of me, her and, well, everyone.
But back to my daughter.
Like a good leader, I won’t ask my people – in this instance, my kids – to do something I’m unwilling to do.
So I’m modeling for her what this looks like and the heart behind it.
I’ve seen God’s way work countless times.
I find it safe to say His way always works.
As in, do things God’s way and he will change even the hardest of hearts toward you.
I’ve prayed this before and during many difficult confrontations and conflict situations.
I’ve never walked away let down.
No matter the outcome, I was safe. I was protected. And I was amazed at what God can do.
A changed heart is nothing short of a miracle, and He is still in the business of miracles.
And even if heart change for the other person isn’t what He’s doing in that moment, our protection is guaranteed.
God promises in Exodus 14:14 that He will fight for us, we need only be still — as in hold our peace.
In other words, there’s no need for worry or anxiety in conflict.
He’s got this.
So I can tell my daughter with all certainty, she will be okay. God has got this.
The Bible tells us so many times not to fear. In fact, if we are in fear, we know that didn’t come from God. Only Satan wants us to cower.
So I have verses like 2 Timothy 1:7 tucked in my back pocket at all times.
What’s interesting is that the clauses in this sentence tell us that power, love and self-control are BRAVE options. And when we choose those things, we are acting in courage.
Fear is cowardice but living in power, love and self-control takes grit.
I’ve learned that once we know the truth of who we are, as in who GOD says we are and made us to be, living boldly is no longer such a struggle. Fear is no longer something that controls us.
So when we have a hard thing to do, something like stand up to a bully, we can count on God’s promises of protection and strength, and we also can count on His people, those who love us and want good for us, to back us up.
Ezra 10:4 says it well.
“Rise up; this matter is in your hands. We will support you, so take courage and do it.”
So I’ll take my child’s hand and walk her through this scary moment in life.
I’ve done the same for many others and do so daily in my interactions with women through the ministry of Celebrate Recovery, a place that I’ve learned all about being fearless.
We need to hold our bullies accountable.
It’s the most loving thing we can do for ourselves AND them.
It is unloving to allow someone to continue toxic behaviors against you and feed their unhealthy habits and mindset, even if that’s not your intent or theirs.
Holding someone accountable enables them an opportunity to change.
And it keeps us true to respecting ourselves and others, a principle I learned in Nina Roesner’s book, the Respect Dare.
It doesn’t matter if they’re children or adults; bullies who are allowed to bully keep on bullying.
And they will always bully to the extent that they are allowed.
Children who bully often grow up to be spouses who bully their spouses. They grow up to be parents who bully their children. Bosses who bully their employees. Government officials who abuse their power and bully and oppress others.
And that’s a big part of the ‘why’ that our world is a mess.
There’s another word for bullying: abuse. And another: oppression.
Now don’t hear me wrong, here.
Please don’t mistake accountability for vengeance. Vengeance is all about paybacks, and the Bible says vengeance is the Lord’s alone.
Instead, accountability is about love.
Matthew 5:44 tells us, “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
So yeah, I’m praying for my bully. I’m praying for my daughter’s bully.
Because I’m sad for them.
There’s a whole psychology behind bullying and since I know it, I’m sad for anyone who feels the need to bully, but that’s a whole other blog post.
How about you guys?
Is it hard for you to hold your bullies accountable?
Is it even harder to do that with love, not vengeance?
Oh, yeah, BY THE WAY: It is only with my daughter’s permission that I have used her story and her private texts to me. She kinda rocks! That’s my brave girl, a giant slayer?! :)