Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. – Philippians 2:3-4
Name-calling and taunting have been around as long as there have been schools and children. Yet this problem has taken a new and sordid twist with the arrival of instant messaging and the Internet.
Cyber-bullying has become one of the most pernicious weapons in the hands of young teens today; many school resource officers tell me it is by far the worst form of bullying they have seen. It is perhaps so deadly because it works alone and in silence, and deeply damages a student's psyche.
Bullying is not just a social problem, either, but a medical one. Victims are now known to suffer post-traumatic stress syndrome, nightmares, over-eating, under-eating, and a greatly increased rate of suicide – especially in teen girls. And the effects of bullying at this formative age can last a lifetime; it is not just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up.
Bullying teens who are gay – or whom people think might be gay – is also a problem. Regardless of what we may feel about someone's lifestyle, it is never right to mistreat or marginalize someone simply because he is different. In fact, my father warned that "soul murder" is every bit as criminal as actual murder. It is precisely the teen who sticks out (or keeps to himself) who needs our love and positive encouragement. If we take the time and effort, we will always find common ground and a way to relate.
Hatred toward people of a different race, color, or culture is no different. It is also a learned thing; left to themselves, children will play happily together, oblivious of any differences in the shade of their skin. When they get older they will naturally begin to notice differences, yet even then their awareness will never be a matter of prejudice or hatred. Racism is present only among children whose self-awareness and awareness of others has been distorted by the adults around them.
Whenever any form of racism rears its head, we must point our children (and each other) away from the foolishness of human ideas about color, culture, and class. Most important, we must seek the love of God, who created us with all our differences, and show our children with words and deeds that we are committed to striving for justice and brotherhood among all men and women on earth.
It is relatively easy to raise children who are polite and who use good manners, but it is much harder to instill in them a genuine sensitivity to the perspectives and needs of others. True consideration is far more than a matter of manners. It means loving one's neighbor as oneself. It means seeing what is of God in another person.
There are many ways to encourage children in this way. They can buy flowers for a grandparent, bake cookies for a friend's birthday, or visit a lonely neighbor. And as they learn to see beyond their own small worlds, they will discover the satisfaction of bringing joy to others.
In his novel The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky reminds us that the sensitivity of children is so great that we can shape their attitudes without even knowing it – and that our most effective lessons will be taught by example:
Every day and hour, see that your image is a seemly one. You pass by a little child, you pass by, spiteful, with ugly words, with wrathful heart; you may not have noticed the child, but he has seen you, and your image, unseemly and ignoble, may remain in his defenseless heart. You don't know it, but you may have sown an evil seed in him, and it may grow — all because you did not foster in yourself an active, actively benevolent love.
From Why Children Matter by Johann Christoph Arnold.