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Bullying brings status: an anti-bullying policy for youth ministry

Bullying is gaining more and more attention from researchers, school, parents, lawmakers and others and rightly so. In the last few years, there have been several heartbreaking stories of the effects of bullying and it’s a serious problem we need to address as youth leaders as well.

We can’t pretend bullying doesn’t happen in youth ministry. I should know, I left the teen ministry of my own church as a teen because I was bullied and the leaders did little or nothing to stop it. I still attended my ‘home church’, but I was involved in another church’s youth ministry (one that was way less radical in its message I might add!) because I was accepted there and felt safe.

We need to stop any and all bullying in our youth ministries. But what does an affective anti-bullying policy look like?

Bullying brings status

A recent study resulted in some interesting findings that may have consequences for how we try to prevent and stop bullying. Researchers from UCLA found in a study amongst middle school students that bullying brings social status and popularity. For the bullies obviously, not the ones being bullied. Cool students are more likely to bully and students that bully are seen as cool.


That makes a no-tolerance policy for bullying in your youth ministry not necessarily the best approach. Students don’t stop bullying just because people tell them to, but they may stop if it will hurt their social status.

Here’s what one of the main researchers said about an affective approach:

Effective anti-bullying programs need to focus on the bystanders, who play a critical role and can either encourage or discourage bullying, said Juvonen, who has conducted research on bullying since the mid-1990s and serves as a consultant to schools on anti-bullying programs. Bystanders should be made aware of the consequences of spreading rumors and encouraging aggression and the damage bullying creates, she said. (source)

Implications for youth ministry

What does this mean for youth ministry? What would an effective anti-bullying policy for youth ministry look like?

I think a no tolerance policy is a good first step, but I think we also need to come up with ways to make bullying totally ‘uncool’. Bystanders (meaning other students, the ones who witness the bullying) need to step in and ‘judge’ the students who engage in bullying as not cool.

So how do we do that, anyone have any thoughts?

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1 thought on “Bullying brings status: an anti-bullying policy for youth ministry

  1. This is an interesting topic because we need to address this issue without losing both the bully or person being bullied. You may find that the bully them-self is facing such abuse (advertant/in-advertant) at home that they do not know how to deal with it so it comes out in the wrong way – bullying others. The person themselves being bullied faces such trauma that it results in them also reacting negatively. The bystander policy – seeing it for the first time seems like a really good policy i.e building community responsibility and not letting the person being bullied suffer in silence and get picked on by others/laughed at. However, handling this in the wrong way can result in dire consequences i.e. physical group fights, gangs/camps etc.

    In terms of the by-stander policy in youth ministry, in my opinion 1) the first step is really having a solid foundation in the Word of God – teaching the youths what the Word of God says regarding the good samaritan, love towards one another, serving one another in love, having the fear of God – not man, finding their identity in Christ alone and not in what others think of them etc. This is all based on a personal relationship with Jesus 2) Have specific rules regarding bullying upfront that all the youth need to agree to and be reminded of every time they meet e.g. no fighting; no unkind word to one another etc. 3) Once that foundation been established, empowering bystanding youths to remind the person who is bullying on the rules and what the scriptures say (as stated above) – also notifying the youth leader in charge of the bullying situation 4)Youth leaders having de-briefing sessions alone with the bully and bullier separately and both together to talk through the situation and agree on steps on how to deal with it going forward 5) Having de-briefing session with the whole class (bystanders) to talk through the session.

    In the debrief sessions, the aim is not to talk down at / yell at the kids, but to talk through what happened using the Word of God in love leading towards a solution. It is not to ostricise the bully or person being bullied either.

    This goes with saying that much prayer (and fasting) will be required by the youth leaders as I believe that this is a spiritual matter as much as it is an emotional/physical one. In the church we are at a much better advantage than the world because we have the Word of God and the Holy Spirit to guide us through all this.

    These are my thoughts 🙂

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