Bullying 101

BullyingI remember it clearly.  A kid at school (lets call him Ryan) had been antagonizing me all year.  One afternoon, I was sitting down, minding my own business, when suddenly he came over and spit right in my ear!  I was too dumbfounded to do anything, and Ryan went away laughing.  I stewed over the humiliating experience all day and all night.  The next day, when I bumped into Ryan, I unleashed a torrent of verbal punches that visibly cut him down and hurt him immensely.  It was way too much.

Decades have passed since that event, but I still look for Ryan on Facebook.  I want to let him know I’m sorry for that incident so many years ago.  He was never the same kid after that, and I know my actions may have had something to do with that.

We all have stories like this, don’t we?  Maybe you acted as the bully.  Or maybe you were the one being bullied.  Either way, those incidents of mistreatment have a profound effect on our lives.  As parents, it is impossible to protect our teens from bullies at all times.  But we can prepare them.  We can give our kids the tools to guard their hearts and minds from the damage of bullying, and help others do the same.  But first, we have to learn a little bit more about the problem.

Who is the Bully?

Boys and girls are inherently different, and this is clearly evident in the way they intimidate others.  Girls tend to inflict pain on an emotional and psychological level.  It happens when they exclude victims by freezing them out of the lunchroom seating arrangements, ignoring them on the playground, or shunning them when party invitations are handed out.

Boys aren’t as subtle when it comes to bullying.  Guys are more prone to insult their victims on the playground than ignore them.  Instead of isolating a non-athletic victim during a gym class dodge ball game, they might take relentless aim and target the child.  They tend to physically harass and intimidate others through displays of strength and superiority.

Male or female, bullies act as predators.  They focus on a weakness they see in others, and exploit it for the most damage.  When they see someone with their head down, shoulders slouched, and looking apprehensive, bullies are likely to go in for the kill.  I have found that a good technique to thwart the attacks of a bully is similar to fending off bears and mountain lions.  I tell my teens to stand tall, walk with confidence, and look people in the eyes when you speak.  These subtle, physical signs tell bullies that you are not a weak target.

Relationship and Communication

A good way to prepare our teens for the bullies they face is to instill confidence in the home.  Parents need to consistently demonstrate that their child is valued and loved.  Mom and Dad, there is no better way to prepare your child for bullies than to maintain a good relationship and keep the conversation going.  Honest communication is powerful.  Once teens get talking about the emotions that have built up inside of them, it helps them release negative feelings.  Set aside an afternoon every week to sit and talk with your teen.  Ask your son or daughter, Have you ever been bullied?  How did you respond?  How did you get over it?  Knowing that someone is listening and cares makes your teen feel valued and protected.

Stop the Bystander

Cracking down on the victimizers or teaching victims to stand up for themselves is not going to stop bullying in the long run.  The only way to end the bully epidemic is to stop the bystander.  Eighty-five percent of bullying takes place in front of other people.  Bullies are performing for an audience.  When others sit back and watch someone receive unjust treatment, it only fuels the bully’s compulsion to show off for their friends.  But according to a study by The Family Resource Facilitation Program, bullying stops in less than ten seconds when someone intervenes. 

Even if your child is not bullying others or being bullied, it is crucial we explain the importance of taking a stand.  Reward and praise your kids when they speak up for someone in need.  Model the courage needed to look out for those who are being abused.  Tell them stories you hear about people supporting victims.  Helping your teen develop a strong conviction against bullying is the best way to combat this growing problem in our schools.

Care for the Bullies

When looking for someone to blame, we often put the spotlight on the bully.  But in reality, the bully is often the one who needs our help.  Intimidation is a learned trait.  A child who is victimizing another child most likely had the same thing done to him or her.  They are living out what they have learned.  Many Heartlight students have told me that they had to bully others just to survive.

Bullies need our love and encouragement.  While we do not condone their behavior, we should seek to understand what is behind their actions.  If your teen is terrorizing other kids, don’t react by blowing up.  Ask them if the same thing was done to them, and then show how their actions are causing pain.  Many times bullies do not realize how much damage they are doing.  Once confronted, they usually express remorse.  Let’s be sure to love the bullied and the bully together.

Let’s face it.  Kids are not the only ones who deal with insensitive people.  Who hasn’t encountered a bully on the freeway, in the office, or in line at the grocery store?  We are hassled by aggressive and unpleasant people even as adults.  There’s never been a better time than right now to give your child the tools they need to prepare for a world of bullies.  It’s a lesson they will carry with them through life.

*Name has been changed


Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website.  It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.  Go to www.heartlightministries.org.  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com.  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.


Don’t Miss Out on The Good Part!

Don't Miss OutOnce Jesus was invited to come over to a friend’s house to sit down, relax, and swap stories.  One of the hostesses was a lady by the name of Martha, and she was your typically type A personality.  She spent the entire morning cleaning, cooking, and preparing the house for Jesus and the other guests to arrive.  Then Martha spent the whole time during the party cleaning up used plates, wiping up spills, refreshing everyone’s drink—basically running around like a chicken with her head cut off!

But her sister Mary was quite different.  She spent the morning excited to see Jesus.  And when He came, she plopped down and listened to everything He had to say.  As Martha scurried about the house, she noticed her sister Mary relaxing and enjoying herself.  And this got under Martha’s skin BIG time.  If she was busy, why shouldn’t everyone else be as well?  Well, Martha finally had it up to here, and she asked Jesus, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” (Luke 10:40)

Let’s be honest.  We’ve all been there!  Our modern life is busier than ever.  Our schedule is so jam-packed with appointments, events, meetings, deadlines, goals, and pressing expectations that finding a quiet, uneventful evening is a rare luxury.  And this lifestyle spills out to our families and our teens.  If we’re busy, we expect our teens to stay busy as well.  So we all end up like Martha, going a hundred miles an hour, and maybe even feeling resentful of those who actually have some downtime.

To Martha’s demand for help (and to our modern schedule) Jesus gave some much-needed advice.  “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things … [but] Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10: 41,42).

Jesus hit the nail right on the head, didn’t He?  We’re often so busy that we tend to miss out on “the good parts” of life.  We get so distracted by the marginal stress that we forget to spend time with our kids and our families, those relationships that add true value.  We may be like Martha, but we need to be more like Mary.

It Starts with You

When we are burning the candle at both ends, everything in the middle starts melting.  Our kids start to drift away from us.  Our marriages suffer.  Relationships take a hit.  Before you burn out, take some time to relax and take a breath.  Even God rested on the seventh day, giving us a model to follow.  Set the tone for your home by initiating periods of relaxation for you and your family.

Also, remember that God hasn’t given us a family so that we can ignore them in favor of other busywork.  Quite the opposite.  The reason God has given you the kids you have is so that you can take the time to nurture them, love them, and spend time speaking into their lives.  Often, we’re so caught up in directing our kids and providing for them that we forget that the most important gift we can give them is time.

So what does your busy schedule look like?  Do you plan your calendar around what needs to happen outside your family, and give your kids the leftovers of your time?  Or do you first pencil in your family, and divvy out the rest of your time to other projects?  Make family your priority, and let other activities fall in behind.  I realize that we’re all busy these days, and we carry the weight of a thousand different responsibilities.  But your family needs your time more than they need anything else.  And we’ll miss those good things with our kids if we spend all of our energy pursuing other goals.

Here’s my challenge: find one block of time on your calendar that you can give to your kids.  Maybe it’s a weekly date where you and your daughter can eat ice cream and watch a movie together.  Or perhaps you can carve out a couple of hours a week to take a bike ride with your son.  It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it’s you and your child, away from the phone, e-mail, and anything else that would try to steal your attention.

Help Your Teen

Did you know that doctors and therapists report that clinical anxiety is at an all-time high among teenagers?  It’s no wonder when you think about how busy our kids can be.  There’s band practice, football practice, church functions, school events, and whatever else we can cram into a 24-hour period.  Our teens are infected by our busy lifestyle!

Of course, there is nothing wrong with your teen being involved in activities.  I’m not knocking those things.  But as parents, we need to be intentional about the activities our kids are involved in.  If a teen’s schedule is too tight, something has got to give.

Growing up, my daughter was heavily involved in gymnastics.  She went to every tournament and has tumbled and somersaulted in every gym in the country.  But recently she told me, “I wish that wasn’t so heavily involved in gymnastics growing up.  I missed out on a lot of things.”

I firmly believe that many teens are over-committed and under-nurtured.  Their lives are full of activities, but they’re missing out on quality memories.  If your teen comes home tired, burned out, and worn out, it’s time to intervene and help them slow down.  Take a family vacation.  Now, I know that many people will say, “Mark, I can’t afford a vacation!”  But it’s possible you can’t afford not to!  Both you and your busy teen need to take a breath, relax, and spend time making memories that last far longer than any trophies or GPA scores.

Even beyond the vacation, make your home a place of rest.  Create an environment where kids can find respite, enjoyment, new experiences, and a sense of value for what matters most.

You’ll never hear someone at the end of their life say, “I wish I had been busier.”  But you might hear, “I wish I had slowed down to enjoy the time I had with family.”  Don’t live with the regrets of wasted time.  Throw off the need to be busy 24-7, and grab hold of what Jesus said were “the good parts.”  You and your teen will be glad you did.



Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website.  It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.  Go to www.heartlightministries.org.  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com.  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.

Building Secure Fences

Building Secure FencesOn our sprawling Heartlight Texas campus, we have a number of beautiful horses.  It’s amazing to see the teens in our program connect with these animals in meaningful ways.  Even a so-called “bad” kid will gladly ride, care for and love the horses.  In the course of working with teens and horses, I have come to realize that both have at least one thing in common: a desperate need for fences.

A corral makes a timid horse feel safe and secure.  It lets them know they are protected and cared for.  It keeps wild animals from coming in and keeps a horse from wandering off into the Texas landscape and finding itself in critical danger.  In much the same way, kids need fences.  Loving boundaries let kids know where they are, who they are, and what they can do.  It may sound strange, but it’s only within the confines of boundaries that a child is actually free!

My horses aren’t able put up the fences they need by themselves, and neither can our teens.  They need Mom and Dad to set clear, defined and appropriate borders for them.  Let me share some ideas for how you can build these fences around your home and family.

Boundaries versus Rules

The first question parents ask is, “What is the difference between rules and boundaries?”  Practically, there is only a slight difference.  You could swap boundaries for rules almost interchangeably.  But here is where I make a distinction: Rules are about restriction.  Boundaries are about value.

When you take the time to set limitations for your child, you are demonstrating that they are valued.  If I didn’t care for my horses, I wouldn’t bother putting up a fence.  They could run away, get lost or attacked by wild animals—who cares?  But since I love and value my horses, I work to put up barriers to steer them away from what could hurt them.  If I would do that for a horse, how much more should I do that for a precious and treasured teen?  Proper boundaries make a child realize, “I am safe.  I am valued.  I am protected.”  When setting up new boundaries in your home or reinforcing old ones, share this with your teen.  Let them know that it’s not to keep them subservient.  You are employing these fences because you love them and want to keep them from harm.

Start with Yourself

Driving that first stake in your family’s fence begins with you.  First identify those areas where you feel disrespected or used.  And then, model for your child how to set up proper boundaries in your life.  We may feel that as parents, we need to answer every call and fly to every rescue.  But this shouldn’t be the case.  There is nothing selfish about putting up fences to protect your health, marriage and sanity.  You don’t have to say yes to every request.  You don’t have to do everything around the house.  You don’t have to act as your kid’s emotional punching bag.  Show them what it means to build healthy boundaries.

You could start by telling your teen, “I am not going to pick up your laundry and wash it for you anymore.  You are capable of bringing it down and washing it yourself.”  If privacy is an issue, you can say, “My bedroom is off limits.  You can come in when invited, but if the door is closed that means stay out!”  Maybe respect and courtesy is a boundary that needs to be strengthened.  Sit down with your child and explain, “I’m not going to let you dump on me when you get home from school anymore.  I enjoy talking with you, but you’re not allowed to say hurtful things, yell at me, or call me names anymore.

What’s that line from the movie Field of Dreams?  “If you build it, they will come.”  When it comes to boundaries, “If you build it, your teens will follow.”  Start putting up fences in your life, and your family will follow suit.

Respect Other Boundaries

This next step takes discernment, but it goes a long way in helping you and your teen establish good fences.  Just like you want your child to respect your boundaries, you in turn have to honor theirs as well.  Now, this doesn’t mean we stop being parents.  We reserve the right to check phones, look up web history and search backpacks if there is sufficient cause.  But Mom and Dad, toe the line between being a good parent and trespassing over fences.  Respect the privacy of your teen’s room or space.  Allow them to vent and be emotional if the conversation remains respectful.  As your teen proves they can be responsible, slowly back off snooping on them.  Reward their behavior with a growing level of space around their lives.  Widen the fence posts as your children mature.  Your teen will thank you for it.

Enforce the Consequences

When you set up fences around yourself and around your home, you have to keep teens accountable to stay within those parameters.  If they go outside those boundaries, be clear and follow through with the consequences.  In homes where mom and dad live apart, sometimes one parent will make up for turmoil by giving a child free rein.  Perhaps they feel guilty, so they make up for it by giving a child a free pass to do whatever they want.  But this kind of license is ultimately damaging to a teen’s wellbeing.

I was talking with a student the other day, a bright and fun girl, who came to Heartlight to work on some relational problems with her guardians.  Her uncle had raised some much-needed boundaries, and she rebelled against them.  But after talking and working through these issues, this girl told me, “I realize that by rebelling I was putting myself in danger.  I know now why those rules are so important.  They are there to protect me!

Hang in there, Mom and Dad.  Those boundaries you put up are needed.  Sometimes my horses kick against their corral and I have to spend some time fixing them up and calming the animals down.  But in time, the horses learn to appreciate the fence.  And when your son or daughter becomes a responsible adult, they will look back and thank you for the boundaries in their life.



Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website.  It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.  Go to www.heartlightministries.org.  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com.  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.