Cyber Bullying and How to BE the Change
Today’s post is a guest post written by my wife, Tessa. She is a vital volunteer in our youth ministry and has been fighting on the front lines with me from day one. Enjoy!
Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last decade, I’m sure you’re aware of the cyber bullying “craze” that has swept our nation. It has become more popular than the old fashioned “give-me-your-lunch-money-or-I’ll-give-you-a-swirly” type of behavior. It is very different… and not so different. The anonymity gives teenagers the courage to say the things that they normally would be too hesitant to say face to face. I threw out the “not so different” because the avenues in which they are saying these cruel things are their social outlets. These days students get at least half (if not more) of their social interaction technologically, so while us old folks might see this as new and strange, it is still just students picking on their piers socially… it’s just easier when the person you’re attacking can’t see you, and vice versa.
I have had many conversations with students about cyber bullying. When asked why, in their opinion, it has become so popular; they all give the same answer, “It is easier to be mean when you can hide behind your computer screen. You don’t have to see the person, and if a response is needed, you have time to think of a cutting, witty stab.” Now it is true that some of the serious cyber bullies are also real life bullies, but for the most part, the bullying that is being done is just your average teenager spreading their gossip publically. When I was in school this was done when you were driving around with your friends or sitting in the cafeteria eating the oh-so-delicious lunch that public schools have been known to serve. That was our social time. In the evenings we would hang out together, meaning in the same home, car or restaurant, where the conversations were just between us. Students today still hang out together, their “together” is just on Facebook. Sure some students do their gossiping through private messages, but a lot of it is talked about publically for the world (including the victim) to see.
Now I’m going to take a very, very harsh left turn here… bare with me.
In youth ministry, one question that is often raised is by students is, “How do you spread the gospel? How do you tell your friends, or anyone, about Jesus?” Now in having discussions about this, their question isn’t as much how as it is, “How do I tell someone about Jesus without them making fun of me or thinking I’m weird? What if they start laughing at me? What if they ask me a question I can’t answer?” They’ll tell you that it’s awkward or scary. Teenagers who truly want to evangelize can, for the most part, tell you the basic gospel story in their sleep. They know what to say, they are just afraid of the response they will get, or if it will damage their reputation. No one WANTS to get made fun of…. For anything! Especially their faith.
Now, tying my two random topics together, aren’t the reasons for cyber bullying a direct answer to the hesitations on students’ evangelizing fears?
- It’s awkward and scary
- It’s easier when you “hide” behind your computer screen
- What if they make fun of me or laugh at me?
- You don’t have to see the person
- What if I don’t have an answer to their question?
- If a response is needed, you have time to gather your thoughts… or look it up in your Bible… or Google… or simply pray
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t teach our students how to talk to people face to face about Jesus. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t preach and preach to them that God isn’t something to be ashamed of; however, these students are used to socializing through technical means. It IS their community. It IS the way they interact and make friends. We don’t have to agree with it. Heck, we don’t have to understand it… it just IS. Maybe the thought of talking to someone about such a sensitive topic is so scary because that’s not how they are the most comfortable interacting PERIOD!
I think we need to encourage our students to take advantage of this incredible opportunity to spread the love of Jesus. Challenge them to attempt to make a difference through THEIR social outlet. As stated earlier, most cyber bullying is just your everyday gossip that get’s shouted to the world. What if instead of our students posting gossip, they posted something nice about a person, or they stood up for someone who was already being attacked, or they just said hi to a person they know doesn’t have many friends. What if every time they saw something negative or mean, they made a conscious effort to do something nice and loving instead? Tell someone they looked nice today. Tell someone they did a great job in their game/play/choir concert/on their project. Or be bold… someone complaining about their day? “I’ll pray for you.”
Our teenagers can easily make a difference, we just need to open their eyes to the possibility of them doing it in THEIR world, THEIR way… not ours. I’d venture to bet most of our students are against cyber bullying. We need to encourage them to the change, make a difference. If all of our students in all of our youth ministries across the country did this…. Well, I can’t fathom the possibilities.
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