by Annette Bridges. © 2007. All rights reserved.

Bullying has become a common experience for many children and adolescents. In fact, surveys indicate that as many as half of all children are bullied at some time during their school years. Some children, who are targeted by bullying, suffer a loss of confidence, believe something is wrong with them, or struggle with loneliness, depression and anxiety. And for some, being bullied has led to suicide.

Statistics also report that 60 percent of boys who bullied in grades 6 to 9 were convicted of at least one crime by age 24 and 40 percent had three or more convictions.

Whether a child is the perpetrator or target, bullying entraps our children in destructive behavior patterns and into a vicious cycle that unless broken, can bring long-term devastating effects. At present, there is no legal definition of bullying, but many define bullying as the act of intentionally causing unhappiness to others through verbal harassment, physical assault or other more subtle methods of coercion, such as manipulation.

What makes a child bully another?

Some psychologists believe a child may behave this way to be perceived as popular or tough or to get attention. Some may bully out of jealousy or may be acting out because they themselves are bullied. Those who bully believe they possess more physical or social power and dominance than their victims.

It’s been reported that much school bullying occurs in physical education classes. This didn’t surprise me, as I recalled my own experience of being bullied. As a young child, I was very skinny and very self-conscious about my size and appearance. Getting teased about being skinny was a frequent occurrence. A turning point came one day during a series of competitions during gym class.

Rather than doing multiple chin-ups, each girl had to do one chin-up and hold the position. Each was timed at how long she could hold herself up. My dreaded turn arrived along with heckling that I was too weak to even pull myself up at all. I remembered being determined to prove everyone wrong. Not only was I able to pull myself up, but I broke the school record for how long I could hold that position. Never again was I taunted about my size and lack of ability. Perhaps it’s the emphasis our culture places on “success” that changed my status among my peers and gained their respect. But I think it had more to do with my prayer.

There was something that prompted my confidence, and it wasn’t willpower. My mom taught me about my spiritual identity. That no matter what my opinion or any other opinions were about myself, the child that God created is my “true” self. God could only create the reflection of Himself, and this would surely include such qualities as strength, courage, fortitude, confidence, poise, faith. She told me I could rely on my God-given qualities at any time. Throughout my childhood and adult years, I’ve had opportunities to prove she was right. I remember praying along these lines that day in PE class.

So, how can we save our children?

As children grow and blaze a trail toward adulthood, they seek to discover their own identity while developing a sense of morality and being able to tell right from wrong. There is help for children who struggle with feelings of inadequacy and inferiority — for those who bully and those who are bullied. Perhaps our best hope is for parents, schools and communities to help all children recognize and understand their divine inheritance and spiritual selfhood.

Helping all children to be the best they can be and see the best in themselves and in their peers could eliminate the false point of view that one person is better than another. Knowledge that all have their own unique and special talents and abilities is something to be appreciated and celebrated, rather than envied or criticized. This is part of understanding that we’re all children of God and we’re each special in His sight.

It’s not too much to say that the progress of humanity, which includes all ages, relies and depends on understanding our spiritual identity. Since we’re each a child of God, we need to act like it. And we can and will as we better understand just what that means.