Putting an end to childhood bullying

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.

The Bible: My management guidebook

by Annette Bridges. © 2007. All rights reserved.

A few years ago, I took part in an exercise with a group of other people in management jobs that really changed my thinking. We were each asked to pick out a Bible character and discuss his or her leadership and management qualities and skills. Ultimately, the plan was for us to discover skills that we could apply in our own jobs, wherever we worked. I chose Nehemiah.

Reading the story of his life in the Bible, I was intrigued at the strong connection between his reliance on prayer and his many accomplishments. As a Christian Scientist, it was natural for me to pray to God when I was ill, and I’d had lots of physical healings. But now I realized prayer could help me in my work, too. And Nehemiah provided a good management model.

Nehemiah was serving as a cupbearer in the palace of Artaxerxes, King of Persia, when he got word of conditions in Jerusalem, and the fact that the city walls were all broken down and the people there were in a very sorry state. He felt called to go to Jerusalem to help them, but to do this he needed permission from the king. Anxious as he was to get started with this work, he knew that he had to wait for the right time, and he prayed for guidance about when to ask as well as for the right words to say. Mary Baker Eddy wrote in Science and Health, “Desire is prayer; and no loss can occur from trusting God with our desires, that they may be moulded and exalted before they take form in words and in deeds.” It seems to me that Nehemiah’s desire to help his people was proof that he lived this statement. And his desire to go to Jerusalem was granted.

Rebuilding the wall would not be an easy task.

Even after Artaxerxes agreed that he could go to Jerusalem, Nehemiah knew rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall was not going to be an easy task. It would be a massive architectural undertaking. At first, he was uncertain how to inspire the people of Jerusalem to help him.

But again, he didn’t act impulsively or hurriedly. He prayed for guidance. And his prayer resulted in knowing just what he needed to do and say in the right way at the appropriate time.

Nehemiah was frank and forthright in talking with the people in Jerusalem, but he was also patient with their fears and discouragement. Under his guidance, they became united in their common goal.

As I compared Nehemiah’s actions to my own, it occurred to me I was often too impulsive in my work. I didn’t always fully consider the consequences of decisions made and actions taken. Nehemiah’s example showed me that prayer can bring clarity of vision—as well as tact.

The more I learned about Nehemiah, the more I was impressed by his humility. And I knew I needed more of this quality in my own work. There were too many times when I arrogantly insisted on “my way.

Mrs. Eddy wrote about humility, “One can never go up, until one has gone down in his own esteem” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, p. 356).

Nehemiah turned to God and kept his own ego in check.

Nehemiah frequently went to God in prayer to seek guidance, direction, wisdom. By looking to a higher authority for answers, he kept his own ego in check.

Nehemiah was never impressed by gossip, criticism, or doubt—he stayed on task and focused. His enemies tried to persuade him to stop his work many times. But his prayer-inspired clarity kept his focus on the work God was directing him to do.

This part really grabbed my attention. Too often, I allowed gossip or criticism to hurt my feelings and distract me from my work. Mrs. Eddy’s article “Taking Offense” is full of good advice for such times. She wrote, “It is our pride that makes another’s criticism rankle, our self-will that makes another’s deed offensive, our egotism that feels hurt by another’s self-assertion” (Mis., p. 224).

I could pray to God to guide me.

The more I studied Nehemiah’s example, the more I realized I could exhibit the same leadership abilities he expressed. I could pray to God to guide me. From then on, prayer became an important part of my management plan. And I soon had a chance to put my new understanding into action.

I was part of a management team that created and designed products for use both in the office and by the public. Consistency and clarity of message was crucial. Tight deadlines were routine and there was no time to placate sensitive egos. We needed to work together harmoniously without losing sight of our purpose and ultimate goal.

Before this Biblical management study, I often anguished over projects. I dreaded working with some of my colleagues and the tension resulted in daily headaches. I didn’t enjoy my job, and often thought about quitting.

But Nehemiah helped me to understand how to stay focused on the ultimate goal. As I tried to express more humility, I quit letting personalities and opinions—mine included—stop progress. In fact, I began to welcome fresh and new ideas. The willingness to be flexible became natural. The daily headaches ceased and the joy I experienced at work returned.

I’ve started to think of the Bible as a textbook for every area of my life. Whether as a business manual, a health guide, or a parenting and relationship workbook, I’ve found the Bible is a great reference book for all of life’s questions and problems. Mary Baker Eddy wrote, “The Bible contains the recipe for all healing.” I’m finding this to be true, at work and at home.

The emptiest nest

by Annette Bridges. © 2007. All rights reserved.

My world was about to change. It was September 2001, and my only child was heading off to college. I had been anticipating and dreading the day.

You have to understand, Jennifer is not only my daughter. She is also my shopping companion, my movie buddy, my confidant. She is my best friend. When Jennifer was born, I stopped teaching school to be an at-home mom. When she started school, I went back to teaching at her elementary school. In fact, I was her kindergarten teacher.

In Jennifer’s fifth-grade year, we started home schooling and continued through high school. It was a good fit for our cattle-ranching lifestyle. And she and I loved learning together. Besides, it left us plenty of time to travel as a family, something I couldn’t even imagine doing without our daughter. Even when she went to summer camp, I went with her and volunteered.

But the day had come for her to begin her own life journey away at college. It was inevitable, and I had to face it. The time had finally arrived for me to let her go — without going with her. And it was time for me to move on to the next chapter in my own life — life without a child at home. This change may have been my greatest unspoken fear.

How can I describe those first days and weeks without her at home? Sleepless. Anxious. Worried. Fearful. Uneasy. Almost unbearable.

There wasn’t anything anyone said to me that helped. Yes, I knew what was right and normal for my child. I knew she couldn’t live at home forever. I didn’t want that for her. And yes, I knew it was normal to miss her. I admit I talked with her every day on the telephone. But nothing could stop how frantic I was. My imagination worked overtime, especially at night when I tried to sleep. The anxiety I was feeling from being separated from her was creating a picture of a vulnerable young girl who was susceptible to chance, accident or even violence.

In the meantime, Jennifer was adjusting very well to college. She enjoyed her classes and made good grades. She was used to managing her time and studying on her own. She had a boyfriend we liked. And she was active in a student organization. In fact, it was her activity in this organization that brought my anxieties and fears to a head. She was going to fly on a commercial airliner to Washington DC, and it was only 6 months after 9/11.
I had begun praying and searching for peace of mind before her travel news. My search for peace required moment-to-moment, thought-by-thought prayer. Psalm 91 became my daily prayer and brought me reassurance, comfort and confidence.

It also helped me to think of God as both Father and Mother. The perfect 24/7 Parent, never off-duty — for both me and for Jennifer. I realized that everyone has a unique relationship with God, and their own purpose to fulfill. And I wasn’t responsible for maintaining this link for my daughter.

The idea that both Jennifer and I are on life journeys and that God has a purpose for us throughout our lives proved key to gaining peace of mind. When I finally accepted, believed and trusted this idea with all my heart, I became committed to not allowing any thought, fear or opinion interfere with God’s purpose for both of us.

The fruits of my prayer were life changing.

Yes, Jennifer had a safe and fun trip to Washington DC. Her college years were joyous and productive. She completed her Bachelor of Arts degree in three years. The boyfriend became our son-in-law, whom we love very much. She and I still talk every day, and I look forward to hearing what’s new and wonderful on her life journey.

And what about me? I can honestly say that fear and anxiety no longer rule my days and nights. My husband and I have great fun with evenings and weekends that are “just us.” We’ve enjoyed trips alone and have had wonderful excursions with friends. And we’ve had opportunities for travels that have included our daughter and son-in-law. I have started a new career. My husband and I have remodeled our house. And we’ve added a new member to our family — a miniature dachshund.

Not long ago I had a conversation with Jennifer reflecting on her college years. In telling her about my experience in those first few months, I was delighted to learn she never suspected my struggle. She told me, “I never felt guilty going away to college. I never felt you were scared for me. I never felt susceptible to risk or dangers. I never had any situations that made me afraid. I always felt safe.”

Yes, my world did change. But I’ve learned I don’t have to be afraid of change. Change is progress. Change means growth. Change provides expansive views. It’s kind of like the change from a caterpillar to a butterfly. Certainly, the life experience is different. But what a difference in the view!

Purposeful parenting…

by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

July has been given the distinction of National Purposeful Parenting Month. Purposeful. That’s practical and sensible. Something most parents aspire to be.

Recently, Boy Scout Brennan Hawkins’s story gave me pause to reflect on my parenting method in street proofing my daughter from stranger danger.

Brennan’s mother stated that her son told her his biggest fear was that someone would steal him. She added Brennan took their advice about avoiding strangers too literally.

This hit home with me. I’ve often wondered if I’ve emphasized more of danger and warnings to my daughter than solutions in the face of those dangers.

My heart ached to think this little boy could have been rescued sooner if not for his extreme fear of strangers. Or that his fear could have cost him his life.

Martha McArthur of the safety program, Block Parents, says “it’s important to make your children aware how to interact with strangers. ‘Never talk to strangers’ just isn’t practical because we do find children who get lost and are then afraid to ask for help from a stranger.” Such was apparently the case with Brennan.

Clearly, all parents want to alert their children to hazards in the world without overly frightening them. Certainly there are practical and necessary life skills to teach regarding stranger interaction.

We’ve heard again and again that balance is important in all aspects of life and at all ages. What happens when fear outweighs faith and hope? Cases like Brennan’s show how invasive fear can be. How fear can cripple right reasoning with a paralyzing effect on judgment. Brennan told how he hid from search parties. His ordeal illustrates how actions guided by fear can lead to harmful outcomes.

As a parent, I’m heartened by this message of promise from the author of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy: “. . . God is our Shepherd. He guards, guides, feeds, and folds the sheep of His pasture; and their ears are attuned to His call.” (Part of my daily prayer for my daughter!) And also, “Step by step will those who trust Him find that ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble’ (Psalms 46:1).” And finally her instruction “Let neither fear nor doubt overshadow your clear sense and calm trust. . . ”

Brennan’s potentially tragic story encourages me to also emphasize to my daughter that she can pray and listen for God’s directing when facing her greatest fears. That she and all children can have faith that prayer will lead them to intuitively make good decisions even in bad situations. That they can be confident with these intuitions. Trust them. And follow them.

Yes, I think developing a child’s ability to problem-solve with prayer-inspired reasoning is surely an important part of purposeful parenting!