Kate Neal says the growth of social media seems to have created a society in which bullying is more prevalent than ever before, with devastating and even life-altering effects
TikTok recently made headlines as a number of teachers reported increasing levels of abuse from students, parents and trolls. Many have been signed off sick as a result. We need to do something about it, but I don’t believe banning social media is the answer. We need to understand the value of our lives and the lives of others. We must study trauma, pain, grief and sorrow, as well as what creates character, joy, wonder and good relationships. I believe it comes back to education and the development of relationally safe communities. There’s no quick fix, but I do believe it is fixable.
Teaching strong values is far from soft
Schools are on the front line of our communities and can be an amazing force for good. However, the subjects that deal with healthy values, such as kindness, self-sacrifice, faithfulness, patience, honesty and love are often seen as the soft subjects. We expect children to pick these values up intuitively, having seen them modelled by caring parents. Yet many children have never experienced stable environments in which these values thrive. We need to invest in and teach these subjects more than ever. We need to teach children about real character, which goes against the grain and chooses love against the odds. This is far from soft.
I believe our culture can change, providing that our children (and our teachers) are emotionally invested in and know where to turn in the event of physical or online bullying. If schools can change the world for every child, they have the potential to impact whole communities and future generations.
One kind word
The theme for this year’s Anti-Bullying Week is ‘One Kind Word’. Kindness is the perfect antidote to bullying. It’s not just about being nice; it is about community, togetherness, and being seen, heard and belonging. Real kindness is gritty, strong and powerful. It builds healthy relationships, healthy families and healthy communities.
There is a huge body of evidence around the scientific effects of kindness on our physiology. Kindness has been found to affect our emotions and relationships (no surprises there), but also how our brains, hearts and immune systems function. It is an antidote to depression and can even slow the ageing process. Altruistic behaviour can increase our endorphin levels and may release the hormone oxytocin, which helps to keep stress levels down and can induce feelings of calm and happiness.
As Christians, we have been given a set of defining values in the Bible, which give us a moral compass and a way of life that helps us deal with trauma, release pain and heal. Kindness is one of the fundamental aspects of our faith; one of the fruits of the Spirit. It’s our responsibility to share this fruit with those around us. We must never underestimate the importance of one kind word!
Anti-Bullying Week runs from 15-19 November 2021.