Common Ground

Show me the Bullies!I have been a teacher all of my adult life.  (I know, I know, I’ve said that before), but God has allowed me to teach every age group through the years, either professionally or ministerially…from preschool to adult and so it bears repeating.  If for nothing else it lends some credibility to what I have to say next.  Although I have worked with all age groups especially children, my heart has always been and always will be with the teenagers.

That may come as a shock to some who know me because I have worked predominantly with children in ministry.  I have been the director of my own preschool and worked on staff as Children’s Minister at my church for three years.  I have been involved in Sunday School, VBS and Missions Clubs for kids for well over 25 years…however, my heart continues to belong to the youth.

After graduating from Seminary in 2007, God took me out of Children’s Ministries and for a while I’ll admit I floundered for a place to serve at my church.  I suppose it was because I just naturally assumed that since I had always been plugged in to children’s ministries before, God would just plug me right back in there again somewhere.  That was not the case however.   Instead, God gave me the opportunity to go where my heart had always been, to work with the youth.

The only thing about that, as much as my heart was there…I had absolutely no idea how to work with those particular youth at that time.  You see, I am trained and equipped to work with children.  Certainly I have worked with the youth off and on over many years, but the youth culture had changed…significantly and I found very quickly that I was totally unprepared and completely intimidated by the millennial generation of youth that I would now be working with.

At my home church then the youth would meet on Wednesday Nights for Wednesday Night Live and that was a time of Worship with a devotional message given by the youth pastor that would be geared towards youth.  Although I knew most of the youth by name (at least knew their little brothers and sisters and parents), I did not have any kind of personal connection with the majority of the young people in that room.  The first Wednesday Night Live I attended, I knew immediately that I was completely out of my element…and being the oldest in the room also set me apart…waaaay apart!

As much as I loved those kids, I had very little in common with them and after being politely ignored by them for the first month, I was thinking that maybe I had heard God wrong when He called me to work with the youth at that time.  At the time I had two teenagers at home myself, but as I watched them mix and mingle with their friends in that room, I was struck by how different they behaved when they are surrounded by their peers…and they were not keen having their mother as one of their youth leaders.  My son called it, “Weird” so understandably I was more than a little discouraged to say the least.

I remember reading in Henry Blackaby’s “Experiencing God” that you must make major adjustments in your life to join God in what He is doing.  Certainly I had made major adjustments when I attended seminary, and when I worked as Children’s Minister.  When you accept an assignment from God, whatever that may be, God requires…no, He expects that you make major adjustments to join Him.  I knew that to be true with every other assignment God had given me, but I wasn’t applying that reality to this situation.  I was instead making up excuses…I’m too old to work with youth, I’m too square, I can’t find common ground, my own kids don’t want me there….etc. etc.

God used our youth Pastor at that time to enlighten me.  “God did not give you a Spirit of Timidity,” he said. “You don’t have to be like the youth…they don’t want that anyway.  Just be available to them.  Try to find some common ground…but mostly just love them, respect them and never ever give up on them.”

Well, his words caused me to ask God how I could find common ground with those teenagers?   It became obvious that this generation was and still is all about technology, so I asked God to show me how to tap into that.  Within a few weeks, I literally forced myself to complete a self-prepared crash course on learning as much about their music, popular video games and social networking as I could.  I wanted to know what made these kids “tick”.  I had never heard of Facebook or My Space before, and now I was venturing into the computer “unknown” and within a few hours of me getting a Facebook account, the youth were starting to “add me” as their friend.  Amazingly what they wouldn’t share with me face to face at Wednesday Night Live, they were now sharing with me “online”, and God was leading me into a whole new realm of ministry I had never dreamed existed.

I joined music “fan clubs” of their popular music and learned that Christian “Screamo” music is the most foreign language imaginable to my generation of adults but since the teenagers were “rocking out” to it every single day I forced myself to listen to their music…I now have numbered in my music collection alongside ABBA and Elvis Presley,  the Bands: Fading Rebel, Underoath, The Devil Wears Prada and a few more.  I can’t say I found the music particularly melodious, but I was getting to actually like some of it…that alone was a God-thing!  Oh…and for a while I was even addicted to the video game…Guitar Hero….the result: my son and daughter spontaneously said to me one day as I was “rocking out”, “You are the coolest Mom in the world.”  High praise indeed.

That said there are challenges to treading on that “common ground” with the youth.  I have “retired” from leading youth in my church but now as a Junior High teacher I am very plugged in to their world.  At least as much as they want me to be in it.  My children are adults but with texting, SmartPhones, Snap Chat, Twitter and of course Facebook, youth and young adults spend most of their time online and completely immersed in the cyber world.  I shake my head and sometimes weep at what I see posted on Facebook “walls” and status updates.  Cyberbullying has reached a whole new level of insidiousness.  Pictures are posted, reputations are ruined, hearts are broken.

On the anti-bullying website: www.bullying.org cyberbullying is recognized as

“…the use of information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behavior by an individual or group, that is intended to harm others.” – Bill Belsey

“Cyberbullying, like other forms of bullying, is about human relationships, power and control.  Those who bully others are trying to establish power and control over others that they perceive to be “weaker” than them.  Those who bully want to make victims feel that there is something wrong with them, but victims should know that there is NOTHING wrong with THEM.  It is THE BULLIES who have the real problems.

Cyberbullying is different from other forms of bullying in a number of ways.  While bullying is something that is often under the radar screen of adults, cyberbullying is even more so as today’s youth, a group that I call the “Always on Generation”, feel it most often and most intensely.  This generation is increasingly communicating in ways that are often unknown by adult and away from their supervision.

Cyberbullying is also different in that it is a particularly cowardly form of bullying.  Cyberbullies can more easily hide behind anonymity that the Internet can provide.

Cyberbullies can communicate their hurtful messages to a very wide audience with remarkable speed.

Cyber bullying is often outside of the legal reach of schools and school boards as this behaviour often happens outside of school on home computers or via mobile phones.

Victims of bullying are often fearful of telling others about being bullied because they fear that the bullying may actually become worse if they tell.  Victims of cyberbullying are often also afraid to report to adults about being cyberbullied, as they also fear that adults will over-react and take away their mobile phone, computer and/or Internet access.  This something that is increasingly unthinkable for the “Always On” generation as not being online means not being able to socialize or communicate with their peers, and this fear of exclusion is paramount in the lives of most adolescents and teens.”

Recently I became the victim of cyberbullying.  I had someone (whom I did not know personally), send me an explicit and suggestive (obscene) message on my Facebook page, and on another social networking site.  I realized quickly that this was a cyber “stalker” and I immediately blocked and then deleted the message from this individual, (an inappropriate response by the way, apparently it is important you keep documentation of cyberbullying so you can report it).

I told my daughter about the incident, she admitted that she gets messages like that regularly on Facebook.  She just ignores and deletes them.  Now that shocked me!  I was (am) a pretty protective mom and had I known then what I know now my first instinct would have been to protect my kids; to cancel our internet, and take away cell phones to protect them from those kind of cyber predators.  Then I remembered that is punishing the victim (my children) not the bully.  Instead, I have made it a point to be more aware of the threats online and to equip the teens I work with at school on how to be proactive in preventing cyberbullying.  The www.bullyingcourse.com webinar may be helpful for parents and teachers alike, but here are some immediate practical suggestions for you and your teen to find common ground against cyberbullying:

1.  Never give out or share personal information numbers (PIN) etc.  Remember “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)  There are indeed wolves in sheep’s clothing prowling the internet for innocent victims.  Adult predators create fake ID’s and pretend to be younger than they are in an effort to “lure” their victims into revealing personal information.

2.  Be careful what you post online (pictures, notes, etc.)  Think before you post!  Is this something you would want your Grandma to see or learn about you?  If not, then DON’T POST IT!

3.  Never send a message to others when you are angry or upset.  Give yourself a “time out” to cool off.  Scripture says:

James 3:5-8 – Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. (NKJV)

4.  Never open a message from someone you don’t know.  The old adage of not talking to “strangers” applies here.  Also do not respond to someone online who treats you rudely or meanly.  Bullies want an audience, and they want a reaction from you – don’t give them the satisfaction.

5.  Just like any other form of bullying, if you are cyberbullied TELL SOMEONE!  Tell a trusted adult and then have them refer to ways on how to report cyberbullying at: http://www.cyberbullying.org/pdf/Cyberbullying_Information.pdf
6.  Be polite to others online just as you would offline.  “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, 0 LORD, my strength and my Redeemer” (Psa. 19:14).
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