Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist for the North American Division.
Assistant Director of Women's Ministries for the North American Division
Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, bullies were confined to school hours and playgrounds. As a “funny” but quiet girl in a very small town, I found myself the subject of laughter and bullying more often than I care to remember. But I always knew that at the end of the day, I could go home. Home was my sanctuary, full of books that stretched my imagination to faraway lands, and loving parents who encouraged my “peculiarities.”
Times have changed. Kids are connected 24/7 and have the potential to have their entire lives recorded and documented online: the good, the bad, and the humiliating. They’re not only connected to their friends via texting, social media, and email; they are also reachable by their bullies, anywhere, anytime.
In my day, girls would whisper behind your back, write mean things on scraps of paper and stuff them into your locker, or just obviously exclude you. Yes, it hurt, but it also shaped my character, my compassion for others, and my sense of fairness. It drove me out of my small town to go to college, explore the world, and find a new life full of “funny girls” just like me. I don’t remember the nasty words spoken by mean-spirited children. In a strange way, I can thank my bullies for helping me become who I am today. But the digital world has ushered in a new type of bullying, one that is far more damaging than school yard pranks and being made to feel like you don’t belong.
Cyberbullies can make a self-conscious child or teenager’s life a living nightmare. They can be dogged constantly with mean, spiteful, malicious messages that tear apart their self-worth and identity—and everyone else can see it too. Children can easily begin struggling with suicidal thoughts caused by an endless barrage of insults sent to them right under your nose.
As a teen, I remember jumping into the lake where my family lived and my top came off; I ended up hiding under the deck until one of the neighbors was kind enough to fetch it for me. Everyone had a good laugh and teased me a bit, but by the next week it was over and forgotten. Fast forward to today: something similarly embarrassing happens but this time someone snaps a picture and texts it immediately to all of their friends and sends it out on Snapchat for others to take screenshots and share. In a matter of minutes, the moment is immortalized. This has happened many times—someone snaps an embarrassing picture on Friday, and by Monday the entire school knows. The victim is mocked, shamed, and humiliated again and again and again. It never ends, and the reach keeps expanding. The victim may feel the only way out is to take his or her own life.
What can we do? Morally, as Christians, we should have a no tolerance policy on bullying of any kind. As youth leaders, parents, and teachers, we need to recognize the signs and know how to handle these situations when they appear. Being part of a church does not make anyone immune, but together we can make it a safe place for our youth.
The North American Division is dedicated to preventing abuse of any kind. Consequently, it has launched the enditnownorthamerica.org campaign to provide education and resources to church leaders, educators, and members.
Erica Jones, Assistant Director of Women’s Ministries will now share some practical tips and resources for identifying and addressing cyberbullying.
As a parent or youth leader, one of the most important things you can do to protect your kids is to be aware of any significant changes to their mood and attitudes. Be aware of common warning signs:
Kids need to feel that they have a safe space to talk to a trusted adult. Ask them open-ended questions about school and friends. If you see a change, don’t ignore it or chalk it up to them being “moody teenagers.” Ask–don’t assume! Kids and teens want to know that someone cares enough to ask why they don’t seem themselves.
Additional resources on cyberbullying: