Reminiscing about her middle school years brings up painful memories for Rhenea, of Bandera, Texas, now 20 years old. She vividly recalls sitting in gym class on her first day in a new school and being suddenly surrounded by a large group of students who yelled demeaning insults and tried to instigate a fight.
“I cried,” she admitted. “It was very scary and it hurt my feelings pretty badly because it was the first time I was ever treated like that. Not being liked really weighed heavily on me. It affected how I viewed myself.”
When their five-year-old son came home from his Santa Clarita, California, school with a bloody lip and scraped face, Daniel and Jessica discovered it was not just an innocent playground accident. Their child was being bullied.
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% 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.
Daniel and Jessica talked with all three of their children about helpful scriptural principles they learned through their faith as Jehovah’s Witnesses. “We prayed about it as a family,” Daniel said. Then together, they studied verses “about behavior and about how to stick up for yourself the right way; how to treat people and not retaliate.”
They also went to, 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.
Daniel and Jessica’s young son decided to try and win his bully over with kindness.
“I gave him a stress ball,” said the five-year-old. Jessica acknowledges, “Now he refers to the child as his friend. To me, that’s progress.”
Rhenea’s bullying continued for some time. “It was happening every day,” she revealed, “to the point where I didn’t even want to go to school.” Eventually, she mustered the courage to confide in an adult and got some much-needed support.
Reading the Bible gave Rhenea a sense of peace and taught her principles that kept her from lashing out in anger. “It really helped me,” she explained, “because at that point, it was getting to where I wanted to take things into my own hands.” Praying and viewing God as a personal friend boosted her confidence. “My self-esteem one hundred percent improved,” she said.
“The video ‘Beat a Bully Without Using Your Fists’ helped me realize that I wasn’t the only one going through this,” Rhenea added. “It also gave me several suggestions on how to deal with it.” By being willing to turn around and walk away, and by rehearsing responses to potential bullying scenarios, she was able to manage her situation successfully.
“One girl would bully me pretty badly,” Rhenea said. “When I stood up to her, she realized that she didn’t have power over me anymore and that it didn’t affect me. I didn’t walk away with tears in my eyes.”
“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 want to be treated, showing love, and being slow to anger, are tools Jessica said help her family in many circumstances. “My children can go to school with confidence, knowing that they have the tools to combat issues that they’re faced with.”