What I Know About Bullying…

Michelle Wegner, a missional mom who recently posted her story on this site, just blogged about the topic of bullying, and as I’ve been thinking a great deal about this as well, I thought I would do the same. The more people who are talking about this issue, the better!

When I was a child, I went through a rough period in elementary school in which I was clearly the least favorite person in my class. I was always the one picked last for a team, always the one that no one wanted to partner with, always the one whose comments elicited snickers for reasons I still don’t understand. In other words, I was the outcast. I’m not exactly sure why; I’m guessing it’s some combination of being from a typical immigrant family without much money which ensured that I was always wearing or saying the “wrong” thing, plus being the only minority in the class, plus being less than well-groomed compared to my slick suburban classmates. (My parents were up and out of the house well before I left for school in the morning and didn’t come home until well after I did each day.) When I look at photos of myself from back then, I can see why I was an easy target! Awkward, unfashionable, chubby (actually, these adjectives still fit me today as much as I try my best to hide it!) And although I was never outright bullied, I experienced enough shunning and biting comments to ensure that I knew I was on the margins, which made those waning years of childhood amongst my most unpleasant and unhappy.

I never told anyone about these struggles; I wasn’t close enough to my parents to share and it wasn’t really in my nature to do so anyway. I just stuck it out and went on with my life. But even now, years later, remembering those years still makes me sad. And it makes me ache for each and every child who feels like an outcast, or who feels marginalized, or even worse, who is targeted for whatever reason and made miserable by other children or teenagers. Those wounds cut deep, they are never forgotten, and I can only imagine how much worse it is for kids who experience even more relentless and cruel treatment than I ever experienced. Your self-esteem plummets. You start to dislike, then even dread going to school. You feign illness to avoid the unpleasantries of school life, and you aren’t motivated to learn or participate in class out of fear of being mocked, again. What ultimately saved me is that our family moved away and I had the chance at a fresh start in a new school. I never really left the margins of the high school caste system, but I found enough friends to make the journey through adolescence tolerable. But many kids don’t have the opportunity to leave behind a bad situation, or their suffering becomes so intense that they see no way out. And NO child or teenager should ever be pushed to the brink that they feel there is no way out.

What can the church do to proclaim the message of hope and love that is in, throughout, and from Christ? How can we do a better job of helping today’s youngsters and teens understand that there is a way out, no matter what their situation, no matter what their sexual orientation, no matter how hopeless they might feel? I don’t have any great answers at this point, only questions, but this much I know about bullying: Jesus would have none of it. He stood up for the outcasts, the misfits, the marginalized, and we are called to do exactly the same.

I’d love to hear from you: what are the ways we can better help today’s children and youth understand the love, hope, and joy that is in the message of the Gospel?

The Death of the Picture Book?

I read an article in the New York Times today that stopped me dead in my tracks. No pun intended, speaking of the title of this post. The article was entitled Picture Books Languish as Parents Push ‘Big-Kid Books’, and I found it completely sobering. Amongst the choice quotes in the article was this one from a bookstore manager in Washington, D.C.: “I see children pick up picture books, and then the parents say, ‘You can do better than this, you can do more than this.’ It’s a terrible pressure parents are feeling — that somehow, I shouldn’t let my child have this picture book because she won’t get into Harvard.”

I admit, the “she won’t get into Harvard” hits a sensitive spot with me. In my high school, there was so much pressure to go to a great college, Ivy League especially, Harvard the most. Not that anything is wrong with Harvard, I had a number of good friends go there, and I have nothing against the school itself. But, I do think parents have to think twice about whether the end-all, be-all mark of success for their child (or for themselves as the parent) is whether or not their son or daughter has gotten into a “good college.” Is that really the goal we want to promote in our families and amongst our children?

So grab those picture books, I say. Buy a few from the bookstore so publishers know that not everyone wants to push their children to chapter books. I think the best way to help children love to read is to help them fall in love with books. Chapter books have their place in that process, but a beautifully illustrated picture book can awaken the mind and imagination of a youngster, which will serve him or her well beyond childhood. Some children are strong readers, like my eldest, who naturally gravitated to chapter books at a young age. But some are like my 5-year-old, who’d rather just run and jump and roll around all day instead of read. When I sit down with him and share a picture book, I can see that he is engaged and interested, at least for the short time it takes to read it! If I were to push a chapter book on him, I am pretty sure it would kill all joy of reading whatsoever. I want my kids to grow up loving to read, and loving to learn. Those are qualities that will last them a lifetime…no matter if and where God leads them to college!

What do you think about the potential death of the picture book?

Giving Your Children a Window Into the World

This year in our homeschool curriculum, we are using a book called Window On The World. This is a fabulous book that I highly recommend for families wishing to help their children embrace and understand the needs of people groups all around the globe. Each two-page spread features a particular country, with a map and key facts about that country, a summary of the issues being faced by the people both physically and spiritually, and a list of prayer needs to remember. My 8-year-old focuses on a different country each week; this week, the subject was Haiti, which of course has been in the news so much in recent years due to the recent earthquakes.

I did a little more research online to see if I could help my son understand the realities of life there even more. We both learned today thanks to a recent Unicef report that only 8% of the children in that country go to school. Eight percent! I explained to him that this means if you gather a group of 100 children, only 8 of them are fortunate enough to go to school. He was truly touched by that fact and understood anew how different life is for so many children around the world who live in great need.

Children have such tender hearts at a young age. It’s never too early to start building in care and concern for those who are in the greatest need in our world. What are the ways in your family that you help your children understand and pray for the global needs?

The Perils of Being the Perfect Student

When I was in college, I knew of a handful of professors whose very names could make you quake in your shoes. One of these professors, Mark Taylor, was a religion professor and was known for regularly eating students of faith up and spitting them out, all before lunchtime. I was too scared to take a class with him; I was sure I wouldn’t be able to handle it and I just did not want to go through life with a C or worse on my college transcript, which is what I expected I’d get.

Fast forward 20 years (!), I just read an editorial this legendary professor posted on the New York Times on “The Perils of Being the Perfect Student.” In this piece, Taylor hits on the head what had been my problem in college and what appears to be an ongoing issue: a fear of being wrong, complete bafflement regarding what to do post-college, and a resistance toward “experimentation that is necessary for creativity.” Students now, as back in my day, had been “programmed to perform well so they could get to the next level.” But they had not given any real thought about what the point was of it all.

A missional mom, however, does think about what the point is of it all. As we encourage our children to pursue excellence, we do so to help them discover what their God-given gifts and talents are so they can develop them for his service. We stand against the notion that success comes from excelling in one’s grades and scores from cradle to college entrance exams, and we encourage our kids to dabble, play, spend large quantities of time in unstructured recreation, and just enjoy the wonder of being children. God knows that too soon they will have to face the realities that come with adulthood, but it would be so sad if along the way they lost any semblance of what the joy of childhood was all about.

What are ways in which you try to help your children not be “perfect students”?