Forming disciples + Raising awareness = NO BULLIES

Categories: Around the Diocese

Anti-bullying efforts are underway locally in Catholic schools, parishes, communities

September 13, 2013, edition
By Kristi Anderson
For The Visitor

“Every morning when I woke up, that’s when the real nightmares began. As I got ready for school, my stomach would be tied up in knots because I knew that some sort of torment was coming my way. ‘What will they do or say today?’ was the daily question on my mind. Would they just sneer and snicker as I walked by? Would there be name-calling, taunts or jeers? Would today b e the day they followed through on their physical threats? I lived in fear every day. I felt alone every day. No one — child, teen or adult — should have to feel what I felt. Now as an adult, my pain has lessened but the wounds have never fully healed.”

Wedgies, noogies, kick me signs and the dreaded “swirly” — one’s head plunged in the toilet while someone flushes it — may conjure up funny images from movies and cartoons. But for some, these are very real experiences and, much worse, leave devastating, lasting scars.

At least 70 percent of middle and high school students in the United States are involved in bullying on a regular basis either as a victim, bully or both,according to the Stop Bullying Foundation.


Barbara Coloroso

That is why, in 2011, the Catholic Education Ministries office of the Diocese of St. Cloud brought in Barbara Coloroso, an internationally recognized speaker, author and consultant on a variety of topics including bullying, nonviolent conflict and restorative justice, to speak with Catholic leaders including pastors, principals and educators from around the diocese.

“We are swimming in a culture of ‘mean’,” said Coloroso in an Aug. 2011 Visitor interview. “Much of what we call entertainment, ‘America’s Funniest Videos’ and reality shows, is watching others being hurt or humiliated.

“It’s not easy to defend someone who has become a target,” she continued, “but there are ways to teach young people to be active witnesses, take responsibility and speak out against injustice.”

Catholic schools active

Linda Kaiser feels that Coloroso’s message melds with the Catholic perspective.


Linda Kaiser

“Our job as educators is to form, inform and transform young minds,” said Kaiser, who is director of CEM.

“Our Catholic social teaching tells us that everyone should be treated with dignity and respect. The question for us is less about what do we do about bullying and more about how do we form disciples of Christ? By teaching discipleship, it naturally follows that students are taught to walk in the footsteps of Christ and therefore to love one another as Christ loved them.”

Principal Lynn Peterson of Holy Family School, Sauk Centre, concurs.

“Our annual school theme, ‘Jesus is our L.IG.H.T.!,’ encompasses our idea of anti-bullying,” she said. “With Jesus as our light, we light the way to Christ. L.I.G.H.T. stands for: Love others as Christ loved us, Imitate Jesus in our words, actions and deeds, Give of our time, talents, and treasures to serve others, Help all those in need and Trust in God’s plan for us.

“We spread from one another,” she added. “So if one of us acts like Christ, sharing our gifts and using them in service, we all can be the gift of Christ to each other.”

Youth Empowerment Project


Mitchell Hinnankamp

University of St. Thomas senior Mitchell Hinnenkamp, whose family are members of St. Anthony Parish, St. Cloud, received a scholarship through the Jay and Rose Phillips Family Foundation and the Minnesota Private College Fund to design a service project called the Youth Empowerment Project.

“Ranging from cyber-bullying to physical and emotional bullying to self-confidence and peer support, the project is a well-rounded look at this crippling cultural issue,” Hinnenkamp said.

He initiated his project in a summer camp at the YMCA in St. Cloud.

“I meet with approximately 60 kids ages 6-13 twice a week,” he said. “We talk about the issues, set up scenarios and methods of avoidance, play games, grow and become comfortable with one another.”

Each week, Hinnenkamp addressed a new topic such as cyber-bullying, physical bullying, emotional bullying, self-confidence and peer support.

“I brought stories, films and games,” he explained. “I wanted it to be as interactive and open as possible to make kids feel comfortable, especially when talking about a culturally taboo topic such as bullying.

“My one wish for this project,” Hinnenkamp shared, “is that the participants walk away from the project more educated on bullying and its harmful effects. I want to equip the participants with the confidence and support of their peers that are necessary when addressing bullying.”

Parishes involved

Parishes and youth groups across the diocese also incorporate anti-bullying language, curriculum and discussions in their programming.

Just one example: Christ Our Light Parish, Princeton and Zimmerman, have at least one session per year with their youth where anti-bullying is discussed.

“I usually address the topic of bullying with our youth group every fall,” said Jennifer Adams, coordinator of youth ministry and confirmation at Christ Our Light. “It is something teens can relate to: by being the victim of bullying, being the bully or, most often, being a bystander to the bullying taking place.

“We, as Catholics, are called to protect the dignity of the human person,” she continued. “It is one of our Catholic social teachings. For young people, this presents a challenge: to condemn bullying. Every life is sacred.”

Signs a child is being bullied 

Look for changes in the child. However, be aware that not all children who are bullied exhibit warning signs. Some signs that may point to a bullying problem are:

  • Unexplainable injuries.
  • Lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics or jewelry.
  • Frequent headaches or stomach aches, feeling sick or faking illness.
  • Changes in eating habits, like suddenly skipping meals or binge eating. Kids may come home from school hungry because they did not eat lunch.
  • Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares.
  • Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork or not wanting to go to school.
  • Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations.
  • Feelings of helplessness or decreased self esteem.
  • Self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home, harming themselves or talking about suicide.

If you know someone in serious distress or danger, don’t ignore the problem. Get help right away.

Signs a child is bullying others 

Kids may be bullying others if they:

  • Get into physical or verbal fights.
  • Have friends who bully others.
  • Are increasingly aggressive.
  • Get sent to the principal’s office or to detention frequently.
  • Have unexplained extra money or new belongings.
  • Blame others for their problems.
  • Don’t accept responsibility for their actions.
  • Are competitive and worry about their reputation or popularity.

Why don’t kids ask for help? 

Statistics from the 2008–2009 School Crime Supplement show that an adult was notified in only about a third of bullying cases. Kids don’t tell adults for many reasons:

  • Bullying can make a child feel helpless. Kids may want to handle it on their own to feel in control again. They may fear being seen as weak or a tattletale.
  • Kids may fear backlash from the kid who bullied them.
  • Bullying can be a humiliating experience. Kids may not want adults to know what is being said about them, whether true or false. They may also fear that adults will judge them or punish them for being weak.
  • Kids who are bullied may already feel socially isolated. They may feel like no one cares or could understand.
  • Kids may fear being rejected by their peers. Friends can help protect kids from bullying, and kids can fear losing this support.