Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Renewed Focus on Bullying

On a typical morning a few days ago, my adorable 10 year-old niece approached my brother and his wife with something they never thought they would hear from her.  "I hate my life," she said.

Thinking that it was nothing more than a 10 year-old being overdramatic about her upcoming school day, my brother and his wife decided that it was best to stay calm, but make absolutely sure that she told them why she would say such a thing.  As I'm sure any parent understands, this kind of statement is something that cannot be easily dismissed.  So, after a few minutes of prying, they finally got her to tell them what was troubling her so much.

Frustrated and angry, she told them, "There is a group of boys that makes fun of me because I'm not a Christian."  She paused, and said, "They told me I was going to hell."

I cannot be alone here when I say that this type of behavior seems rather abnormal for children of a mere 9 or 10 years.  It makes absolutely no sense to me that these kids would be acting out with such fervent, religious conviction without some type of coaching from adults.  Pointing a condescending finger at another person and proclaiming that they are going to hell, at this age, cannot be anything but learned behavior.  Furthermore, we are talking about children in the fourth grade here, which in my mind suggests that these boys are nothing but a prototypical psychological window into their developmental surroundings.  Seriously, nobody in their right mind would say that kids are born with the idea of an afterlife, much less with the threat of an afterlife filled with eternal torture and suffering.  These boys were purposefully and maliciously taught to treat kids of other religions, or no religion, with hatred and cruelty.

All that analysis aside, I'm sure you can imagine how difficult it was for my brother and his wife to endure listening to their beautiful baby girl struggle with the toll of psychological bullying in the name of a particular religion.  An event such as this would make any parent completely nauseated.  I know I was.

Now, I should switch gears for a moment and admit that unlike many of my friends, I have the exceedingly good fortune of being related to very positive people.  That statement goes for just about everyone in my family, too, not just the ones I see frequently.  Also, I am extraordinarily lucky to be so close to my brother and his family, especially my niece and my nephew.  I absolutely adore those two kids.  It seems that each time I wave goodbye to them as they pull away in their van headed back to their home in Arkansas, I already miss all of them.  As a matter of fact, when their visits are over, I can't help but think how fortunate I am to be able to spend time with such a wonderful group of people.

Which is why it hurts me so deeply when I hear how cruel other kids can be to my niece.

The most troubling part of this whole situation is that more than likely, this group of boys knows nothing more than simplistic anecdotes of their parent's religion.  Yet at a mere 9 and 10 years-old, they are already boldly segregating themselves and hoisting each other up as superior to others.  Of course, I cannot say with certainty where these boys learned this contemptuous behavior, but judging by the opinions I have read about public school systems from religious fundamentalists, I have a very, very strong hunch where it's coming from.

But this topic is not meant to point fingers at their parents or their church, because I don't think fussing about religiously aggressive kids is very productive, and it does nothing to address the problem at hand.  It also feels a touch passive aggressive, and that really bugs me since I don't want to set that kind of example for my children.  Instead, what I'd like to do is cover a set of suggestions, based on my own experience (and my immediate family's experience), for the secular and non-religious families that have children going to school with religious bullies.

Just to be clear, these topics will not cover extreme situations like those of Jessica Alquist or David Fowler.  These two teens showed exceptional courage in the face of real threats of violence.  These situations are far beyond the scope of my experience, and the only advice I could offer is this: if you or a family member is in this type of situation, let the professionals help you.  Don't hesitate; grab your phone and immediately call the police, then call the Freedom From Religion Foundation.  Threats of violence to you, violence to a family member, rape, and murder should not be taken lightly, and the FFRF has lawyers ready to assist you at a moments notice.

What I will do, however, is spend several days covering different situations as well as provide suggestions from my experiences as a secular, atheist parent.  I plan on covering cases of verbal bullying (or confrontational bullying, like the situation my niece was put through), indirect bullying (lying or starting rumors), psychological bullying (playing on fears or other emotional states), and intimidation.

Please note: I initially intended this topic to be presented on my blog as one post.  But after working a few days on this project, I decided that due to the length of my essay, it would be better to break it up into several posts.  Hopefully this will help alleviate the annoyance of endless vertical scrolling, without detracting from my desire of raising everyone's awareness of this growing and disturbing trend of bullying in the name of Christianity.

I'll update this post with links to the subsequent posts as they are published.  So stay tuned...

NEXT: Tell Him His Fault, Between You and Him Alone

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