Mrs. Nancy Rue: You just take back the power to be yourself. Isn’t that was turning the other cheek is? It’s not, “Okay, well, go ahead and bully me some more.” It’s, “You hit me once, go ahead with your thing, but you’re not getting’ to me with this. I’ve got the power to be who I am.”
End of Teaser
John Fuller: Nancy Rue is an anti-bullying expert and she joins us today on “Focus on the Family” with your host, Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, you wouldn’t think that one of the best, if not the best-selling author in the Christian arena was a schoolteacher and really bullying caught her attention I think way back then. That’s something that happened to me. I mentioned it a couple times. I remember in third grade being bullied by a kid who just wanted to beat me up. The only good thing was I was faster than him, so he never had his chance.
But it was my sister that took up my cause and hid behind a hedge as I was running home down Artesia Boulevard one day in Compton, California. And she jumped out from behind a bush and hit this bully and said, “Don’t bother my brother anymore” and he didn’t. (Laughter) It was a little embarrassing at third grade, going back and saying, “Uh-oh, my sister took care of my bully.”
But we want to talk about the serious side of bullying and how do I mean serious? I mean, it can even push someone to take their own life, that’s how serious this topic is. And today, there is a lot of bullying going on in schools, in media, social media particularly and we’re gonna address that today.
John: Yeah and this is a program for parents of children who might be bullied or perhaps are the bullies. And Nancy Rue is, as you said, Jim, a former teacher. She’s an accomplished author. She’s written so many books, perhaps best-known for one of the series called Faith Girls and she interacts with kids and hears their stories and I’m really looking forward to her insights today.
Jim: Nancy, welcome to “Focus on the Family.”
Nancy: Well, thank you. It’s great to be here and I want to meet that sister of yours.
Jim: Yeah, she was awesome.
Jim: She still’s sparky like that. (Laughter)
Jim: I should call her up if anybody picks on me; I should let her know.
Nancy: You should let her know. Come right one down to Focus and say–
Jim: She’ll go knock on their door.
Nancy: –“Hold my earrings.”
Jim: “Hey, you pickin’ on my little brother?” (Laughter) She’s my older sister—
Jim: –of course. But yeah, Kim, she’s always been that kind of champion for me. Hey, Nancy, I was taken aback by this stat that you provided us; 160,000 children on a given school day will stay home because they’re being bullied.
Jim: That is breathtaking.
Nancy: Well, to put it in perspective, that’s the population of Salem, Oregon or Springfield, Massachusetts.
Jim: Yeah, but that is sad–
Nancy: That’s a whole town’s worth of kids.
Jim: –’cause you only see it as a parent, as a friend of a child in onesies, in “twosies.” You—
Jim: –don’t think of 160,000 children not going to school today—
Jim: –because they’re being bulled and they fear the environment they’re in.
Nancy: And they’re having physical responses to that, systemic aches, headaches, very real, you know, physiological issues, because they’re so terrified at the way they’ll be treated.
Jim: Why and I know you were a schoolteacher—that was a few years ago—
Jim: –but why did bullying cross your radar? Why have you picked up this cause and written about it, talked to teens and adolescents about it? Why is this something you care about?
Nancy: The most amazing, for lack of a better word, “stunning” story I think is what really turned me into it. I was a theater teacher, so I tended to get the misfits and the kids—
Jim: (Laughing) The fun people.
Nancy: –who [were] the fun people, the crazies who didn’t fit in anyplace else. And so, I made it a point to provide an atmosphere, environment where they could be who they were and shine and have confidence. So, my radar was out for other students who weren’t in the program who didn’t seem to have that niche.
And there was one student whose name was Jake. I will never forget him. He wasn’t one of my students, but he was best friends with one of mine. And Ming was Jake’s only friend. And I would watch Jake in the hall walking down the hall with a book in front of his face, as if he were reading a book as he’s going from class to class so he didn’t have to interact.
One day I noticed the book was upside down, so he clearly was not reading it. And I never asked, you know, just what was going on with Jake. I didn’t approach him and say, “So, how’re you doing?”
His junior year, he committed suicide and his friend, Ming was absolutely devastated. And we all sat down and talked about it. And even at the time, I didn’t use the word “bullying.” I said, “What was the deal? What happened to Jake? Was he always just, I don’t know, strange?”
And it came out over the years that Jake was horribly bullied. When I asked my daughter, who was in that group, what happened with Jake? She said, “Oh, my goodness, they were terrible to him, especially the athletes and so forth, called him “gay” and just made fun of him all the time. And then when he came out to his father that yes, he was gay, his father kicked him out of the house.
Jim: At what age?
Nancy: He was 16-years-old.
Nancy: And he hanged himself. And to this day, I still get this ache in my chest, not that I could have saved him, but what if I had just said, “Jake, what can I do for you? How’s it going?” Invited him to just be part of the theater lunch group.
Nancy: And ever since then, it’s just bothered me.
Jim: You know, looking at it at that high-level view, Nancy, what is it in us as human beings that if you act differently, I mean, you’re a theater teacher and you said it and you know, that area attracts a lot of different-thinking people.
Jim: I had to do theater as a general-ed in college and I thought (Laughing) the same thing, ’cause I was more on the athletic side and I’m thinking, “Wow, these people really—
Nancy: What’s wrong with these people?
Jim: –they didn’t fit in with the rest of the world.” But that is okay. God has made us in different ways.
Jim: And people think differently and act differently. But it’s so difficult for us to accept people who act differently and think differently?
Nancy: It’s fear. It’s fear and you would not think of a bully as being someone who was afraid, but there is deep down in there, a fear of somebody who’s different. So, they might actually be better than me. I don’t know how to handle that. That calls who I am into question.
Jim: So, insecurity—
Jim: –and fear.
Nancy: –and fear.
Jim: Bullying came close to your own family, right or it actually-
Nancy: It did.
Jim: –impacted your family–
Nancy: It did.
Jim: your daughter.
Jim: What happened in that situation?
Nancy: My daughter was a little bit on the tomboyish side and to this day, she dresses more in a Bohemian—
Jim: Yeah, right.
Nancy: –you know, kind of style. And so, with the big sweatshirts and just kinda brush the hair and go off to school. And on the day that she was gonna have her picture taken in the sixth grade, she decided she was going to dress up. And so, she borrowed something of mine and she did that, I don’t know if you remember this, but that hairstyle where the bangs stood straight up—
Jim: Yeah. (Laughing)
(Laughing) –right? And she borrowed a little bit of my lip gloss. She looked adorable. She went to school and she got there early and the two girls, Heidi and Haley, I’ll never forget their names—the Shining twins, you know what I mean?? And they made this big thing about Mary Jean. “Do you have any mirrors in your house? You know, Heidi, you have mirrors in your house? Yes. I have mirrors in my house. Do you have mirrors in your house? And finally, Mary Jean said, “Yes, I have mirrors in my house.” And they said, “Well, you couldn’t possibly have looked in one of them this morning or you wouldn’t come to school looking like that–“
Jim: Oh, man.
Nancy: –on the day that she did her best to look [nice]. And that was the beginning of a full-out campaign to make Mary Jean’s life miserable—
Nancy: –for her whole sixth-grade year. But she didn’t confide that in me and this is key for parents, because she was ashamed. She thought there was something wrong with her that these popular girls would come down on her.
Jim: So, she kinda hid that from you.
Nancy: She did.
Jim: What are some of the signs that parents should be looking for, I mean, if you could roll that tape back or that time back?
Nancy: There were some red flags.
Jim: What were they?
Nancy: Right. There was the wanting to sort of disappear, so she went back to the big sweatshirts and the hair hanging in her fact. She did have her own friends in a family where you’re watching your child doesn’t seem to have friends and yet, you know, this was a perfectly great kid. There’s no reason why this should be happening.
There’s a lot of alone time in the bedroom. Being a little bit snappy at home, changes in personality, changes in their school work, sleep problems, stomach issues. And that’s true for boys, as well as for girls. They tend to be angry about it and yet, they can’t do anything about it, so that frustration means at home, where you tend to lash out. And if that’s not your child’s usually MO, it’s worth looking into.
Jim: How did you deal with it then? She didn’t share that with you. What unfolded—
Nancy: When she finally—
Jim: –for her?
Nancy: –did, of course, I wanted to go up to that school and ring some little Shining twin necks. (Laughter) Okay? I went into full bore mother bear mode. And Mary Jean said, “No, no, no, no, don’t do that. It will get worse.”
And so, we did together try to work out how are you going to handle this? And by this time it was the end of the school year. She decided to just tough it out.
The next year when she started seventh grade, she said, “You know what? This year I’m gonna find my thing and I’m gonna make straight A‘s from here on out.” And there was just over the summer, she just had this boost of confidence when—
Nancy: –when she was apart from them.
Jim: –right, but it sounds like she had great resolve. She knew what she wanted to do. What about that child who doesn’t have that well to go to? They’re fragile emotionally.
Jim: They’re changing. They’re not confident. It sounds like your daughter had confidence which—
Jim: –is key.
Nancy: –she did and yet, even that didn’t prevent her from being bullied–
Jim: Or feel the pain of it.
Nancy: –and feel the pain. Oh, absolutely.
Jim: But her response was solid.
Nancy: It was. When you have a fragile child, oh, my goodness, the first thing we want to do is take them out of the school, go up there. Talk to that principal; talk to those parents. What we really need to do is try to empower them. Let’s make the first step trying to handle this yourself with me as your ally. Now if there’s physical bullying going on, all bets are off, okay?
Nancy: If it’s truly—
Nancy: –into it. Right, safety is absolutely key.
John: Nancy Rue is our guests on “Focus on the Family” today and you can find out more about some of the things she’s written and a CD or a download of this program at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. And Nancy, what’s a good script then for me, as a parent, if I have heeded the warning signs, I’ve seen, oops, somethin’s goin’ on? I need to have that conversation. How do I do that with a school where the teachers already have so much on them?
Nancy: Uh-hm. We keep it at home first and we really ask our kids, okay, so, “Somethin’s goin’ on here. You want to talk to me about this? I’m going to listen. I’m not gonna interrupt. I’m not gonna tell you what to do. I’m not gonna ask you any questions. I just want you to tell me the story.”
You may have to put some duct tape over your mouth, but (Chuckling) you need to just sit back and listen and let them tell you the story.
Jim: But you’re being serious there. You’re encouraging—
Nancy: I am being serious.
Jim: –parents not to—
Nancy: Do not interrupt.
Jim: –talk back.
Nancy: Don’t interrupt. Just let them talk. As a wife and I’m sure you guys are both spouses, how many times have you just said, “I need to talk to you about something.” And then immediately, your spouse has the answer and it’s just infuriating, ’cause you really just need to vent? That’s what they need to do in a place that’s safe.
Then when you respond, this is toughest for fathers when you have a son who’s being bullied. Tough for fathers not to say, “Well don’t be a wuss. Get in there. Give back that bully, you know, what he’s giving you. Don’t let him do this to you.” And then of course, the shame just multiplies because then it’s my fault, isn’t it? It’s my fault—
Nancy: –that I’m being bullied. So, the first thing with boys and girls, we need to respond with is, “You know this isn’t your fault, right? This says nothing about you and everything about those kids who are giving you a bad time. You are a good person. We’re gonna help you with this. We’re gonna be your ally.”
Jim: And Nancy, you touched on this. What are those next good steps? You don’t want to put your child in worse danger.
Jim: So, how do you come up with a plan to deal with it tomorrow?
Nancy: I think we need to look to Jesus for this, because the things that we say to our kids are not things that ever came out of Jesus’ mouth. The first thing we want to say to them is, “Well, just ignore it.” Ignoring it is not the answer, but you don’t want to engage in it, okay. So, you need to say, “Now don’t say, ‘Oh, yeah! Well, then you’re a [fill in the blank].” You know, and then—
Nancy: –we’ve got the whole thing going. Or “Why are you doing this to me? Why are you so mean to me?” Because then you’re feeding the bully, so we want to say first of all, “Please don’t feed the bullies,” okay?
So, what do you say? Help them find one-liners like, “Yeah, I’m a geek and proud of it.” And then you walk away. It’s always the one-liner and then you walk away. My very favorite one is, “Really, you just said that to me. I thought you were better than that.”
Jim: Kind of put it right back on them.
Nancy: Well, right, because what are they gonna say? “No, I am not better than that.”
Jim: (Laughing) Yeah, right.
Nancy: The second thing is to tell them is, “Do not let that bully know that this getting to you. It’s one of those “fake it till you make it” things. That’s doesn’t go on forever. That’s just the first step. And so, with the So Not Okay program, which is for tween girls, we have part of our code is “Save the tears.” You just say, “Really, you really think you can get to me with that?” Then you go to the restroom with all the other girls and then you cry.
Nancy: But you do not let that girl see you cry, because that gives her power. Then of course, we don’t want them to always be faking it. We want them to actually feel like they have the power to be themselves. And so, if you have the child who’s really fragile and vulnerable, the long-term plan is to, “What do you like to do? What are you good at? Let’s get you into something where you can build that confidence, so it really doesn’t bother you as much.” You notice that I’m not saying, “We need to change the bully.”
Nancy: Because we really can’t. That child does not have the power to do that and that’s putting way too much pressure. You have to stop them. No. These are powerful kids. You just take back the power to be yourself. Isn’t that was turning the other cheek is? It’s not, “Okay, well, go ahead and bully me some more.” It’s “You hit me once, go ahead with the thing, but you’re not getting’ to me with this. I’ve got the power to be who I am.”
Jim: Nancy, in fact, you speak to young people all the time and you were at a Faith Girls event and I believe a young lady came up to you and that caught your eye.
Nancy: She did.
Jim: What happened?
Nancy: One of the things we did at the Faith Girls events was give away a free book to every girl who was there with her mom, so that if she couldn’t afford to buy one, she could still come through the line and get one signed. And that was part of the deal is, that at the end, every girl gets to come by and have the book signed. And sometimes you’re talkin’ about five or 600 girls.
Jim: Oh, that will take a long time.
Nancy: It does, but it[‘s] just that—
Nancy: –you know, just that moment.
Jim: Oh, and they’re so vulnerable—
Jim: –at that age.
Nancy: And some of them can hardly speak you would think that I was, you know, Garth Brooks, for crying out loud. (Laughter) So, one girl I recall, she had that hang-dog look.
Nancy: You know, the hair hanging down. She didn’t want to make eye contact. Her mom said, “Well, go ahead, tell her your name.” So, I said, “What year are you in?” “Well, I’m in middle school.” And I said, “How’s that goin’ for you?”
Nancy: And she just broken down. “It’s not good. It’s not good.” And she was just the typical target, for no other reason than that she wasn’t Susie Trendy. “On trend”—
Nancy: –with not her favorite prepositional phrase, you know. And you could see that there was so much in there and she was really hurting. So I said, “You know what? Forget those girls who are being mean to you. You don’t need them, okay. Let’s work on you. You find out what makes you tick. What makes you awesome and you just focus on that. And this is one time when I will say, just pretend that they don’t exist. You just work on you.”
And so, the next year, different town in Michigan, one of the close-by towns, I think one was Grand Rapids, one was, you know, Plymouth or something. And this girl comes through the line and I met a lot of girls, so there was no way I was gonna remember names, but she had this look like, I have got something I want to say to you.
And she said, “I have to tell you something.” She said, “This whole last year after you talked to me last year, that’s what I did and now I have all these friends.” And she said, “It turned me around.” That’s all it took, was one conversation of saying, “Be who you are”—
Nancy: –in a society that says, “Oh, now, there’s only one way you can be.”
Jim: That’s a beautiful picture and what you’re giving that girl and what all of us as parents and adults, you know, our kids’ friends as they need it, is confidence. And that hopefully, is rooted in Christ, right?
Jim: I love that statement. Our confidence is in the Lord. And if you can get a child moving in that direction, then—
Jim: –they’re not looking for those other external—
Jim: — accolades and things.
Nancy: And we have to make that concrete for them, that Jesus did not say ignore it. Jesus did not say hit back. That’s the old eye for an eye—
Nancy: –tooth for a tooth. Jesus did not say hate that girl for the rest of your life, ’cause then we get into the forgiveness part of the whole thing, which really does change things. If we’re saying to our kids, “Now I know we don’t want you to be best friends with these kids, but you can try to be their friend. They’re not people you want to be friends with, but hating them and wanting revenge and wanting to get back at them is not a Jesus thing and it’s not gonna help this at all.”
Because if we can talk about why do kids do this? Somethin’s goin’ on in there. They’re not just mean from birth. I’ve never seen a mean baby.
Nancy: And if we can talk to them about, let’s pray that, you know, they will get better, they’ll heal. Let’s not wish them any harm, it does change the dynamic deep inside, ’cause that of course, that’s Jesus.
Jim: And it’s so good and I like tying it. If you think about it, that’s exactly what Jesus did. He gave the one-liners to the Pharisees. Okay, I’ll answer that if you can answer me this (Laughter) and then walk away.
Nancy: Uh-hm. Absolutely.
Jim: I mean, that is really interesting.
Nancy: He never argued with them.
Nancy: Didn’t get into dialogues and debates.
Jim: You just said something profound, bam!
Nancy: This is how it is and walk away.
Jim: Made them think about what they were doing as opposed to owning their shame.
Nancy: Exactly, right. And of course, they got worse, right?
Nancy: And bullies will temporarily get worse, because they’re not gonna like the fact that they’re not winning.
Jim: When that line has been crossed, we didn’t address it fully. When should a parent head to the school to talk to the principal or the teachers and how do you go about doing that?
Nancy: Good question. I think the minute there’s any sign that there’s anything physical going on, so if you’re seeing scratches and bruises that are unexplained or your child is saying, “Well, yeah, he did push me, shove me and hit me in the stomach.” If belongings are missing and they can’t really explain what’s happened to that great jean jacket or their iPhone or then that’s definitely worth looking into. And you’re right; it does get more sophisticated as they get older.
And we’re talking here about elementary and middle school. Once you get into high school, we can talk about that as a separate issue. But if there’s physical things going on, belongings are missing or grades have gone completely down the tubes and your child is depressed and we’re talking in the room, crying, sleep is not happening, appetite has fallen off, just don’t want to do anything—
Jim: They’re being traumatized.
Nancy: –don’t want to talk about some[thing]. They’re being traumatized. This is PTSD that we’re talking about.
Nancy: Then it is not just for your own child’s benefit, but for every other kid at that school that this needs to be addressed. And what we really need to do is say, “Are there any other kids that are being bullied,” because there is safety in numbers and if we can bring in, not just as a full-frontal attack on the administration, but here’s a group of concerned parents. If we can keep our cool and we can simply say, “Here is the problem. How can we work together to solve this problem?” And we need to request that the proximity of that bully or those bullies to our child be limited. There are teachers who won’t move kids in the classroom. You’re just gonna need to work it out. You know, you kids, especially girls, you girls and your drama. If girls are coming to the teacher and if boys are coming to the teacher, then you know it’s really a thing, they need to be paid attention to.
Nancy: And to me, that’s the real shame, that we’re not believing our kids.
Nancy: Kids do not like to tattle and when you say, “Okay, report alert,” which means, this is the time when we need to go to a grownup, they go, “I don’t want to tattle.” So, we need to make this distinction. Tattling is done to get somebody else in trouble. Reporting is done to get somebody out of trouble.
Jim: Oh, that is excellent.
Jim: I like that.
Nancy: So, when the teacher has been told and nothing is being done, then yes, it’s the administration we need to go to and we need to have clear requests, rather than, “You need to do something about this,” it’s, “What I would like to see if for my child not to have to sit next to these kids. I would really like for my child not to be put in a group, you know, to work. I would really like for someone on the playground or in the PE class, in the locker room where these things happen, to just be monitoring this situation.”
Nancy: Because it really shouldn’t be up to my child who’s being victimized to solve this problem. That just doesn’t make any sense.
Jim: Well, and I so appreciate that idea that, as adults we tend to think, “Well, this is what happened when I grew up. This is part of growin’ up. You just gotta—
Jim: –thicken up your skin and go for it.” That’s not a good excuse for adults.
Nancy: It is not and whenever I have a group of parents in a room, I will say, “Raise your hand if you remember learning about fractions.” Maybe a couple hands go up. “Who was your fifth-grade teacher?” They’re muttering to each other and I say, “Who remembers the name of the kid that bullied you?”
Jim: Bam, everybody’s hand goes up.
Nancy: Everybody remembers that and then I will say, “How many of you were affected by that for quite some time?” You would be amazed and the way they say those names, “Oh, yeah, it was Linda Shearer! Oh, yeah!” You can just hear it—
Nancy: –go in there. I have seen moms get tears in their eyes. Recently a writer friend of mine was looking for an agent, because he’s written a book for boys about bullying and he’s shopping it around. And this agent said, “I’m sorry; I just can’t take this on because I was bullied so badly as a kid, I don’t even think I want to be in proximity to it.”
Jim: Oh, my goodness.
Nancy: Yeah, that’s sad, instead of saying, “You know what? Yes, I would really like to get this book out there.”
Jim: He’s still being intimidated.
Nancy: He’s still being intimidated.
Jim: Nancy, we can’t end the program without talking about Linda, who you just [used as] a fictional person you just mentioned. What if you’re the parent of the “bullier?”
Nancy: That’s a tough one. That’s really a tough one, but there are warning signs first of all that your child is a bully. Don’t wait until somebody complains, because then you are on the defensive, right? So, the first thing I would urge parents to do is look at your kids and be around when they’re with their friends. It’s a little bit harder when they’re teenagers, but you know, there are opportunities. And watch how they treat the people they call “friends,” because if they’re snipin’ at each other and your daughter is always the one that says, “Well, then go home if we’re not gonna do it my way,” you know there’s a clique going on.
You watch your son and maybe he’s got his cronies that follow (Chuckling) along. Those are some warning signs. If your child at the dinner table has nothing kind to say about anyone, look at that dinner table, by the way, and see what kind of example you’re all setting.
Jim: One of the things I try to do is to ask my kids at the beginning of every school year and remind them throughout the school year to befriend people that don’t have friends, you know.
Jim: You know, sit with somebody—
Jim: –at lunch that is all alone. And that’s part of your faith expression.
Nancy: It is.
Jim: That’s what Christ would want you to do at this age. It’s something you can do and go out of your way to look for somebody who’s an outsider.
Nancy: And you know, you can make a profound difference that way, because 30 percent of kids are either bullied or are bullies, which leaves 70 percent of the kids who are watching it happen—
Nancy: –and they don’t know what to do. They’re the bystanders.
Nancy: And on our So Not Okay website, this is between girls,