By Ed Perley

The Problem

We hear about children who are abused by parents or other adults. I wish to talk about another kind of abuse, that visited on them by their peers. I am not talking about children that may have problems with bullies. I am talking about children who are picked on all the time by a hard core of tormentors for the purpose of entertainment of everyone else. These children have very low self esteem, and it seems to be the enjoyable task of everyone else to keep it that way.

My wife and I have had first hand experience with this subject. We could write a book about the damage this did to us. It means few friends, isolation from social interaction, and lonliness. There is the constant anticipation of the next carefully orchestrated plan for humiliation that is certain to come. Stephen King's horror story "Carrie" is about a girl who suffered this kind of abuse. Read it if you want to get taste of how cruelly a child can be treated by his or her peers.


  1. The victim deserves to be picked on because he is different, weak, impotent, and lacking in courage. The way he reacts to torment: looks of extreme unhappiness, helplessness, or crying are highly entertaining.
  2. Anyone who does something against the victim impresses his peers for his cleverness. It is a means to enhance his popularity with them.
  3. It feels good to demonstrate that you are better than someone else.
  4. If you feel bummed out about something, you will feel better if you take it out on the victim.
  5. It is great entertainment to gang up on the victim so that his has absolutely no chance to avoid humiliation.
  6. If an adult tries to intervene directly to protect a victim, his status among his peers will drop even further. He will be branded as a coward.

Some grownups, if they happen to notice this problem, will say, "You shouldn't let those kids do those things to you." That's about as useful at telling the Jews in Auschwitz that they shouldn't let those Nazis pick on them. Most of these children do not have the resources to fight back effectively. Unfortunately, some do by resorting to extreme violence that we occasionally see on the news.


A child who shows that he has pride and high self confidence will be much less of a target for abuse. He can gain the courage and self control to change his appearance and behavior so that picking on him is no longer entertaining. Unfortunately, children who are victimized have difficulty taking any kind of initiative. That is why they get picked on in the first place. They need understanding, and encouragement from caring adults. It may be hard to believe, but a young John Wayne was helped in this way by some friends at a local firehouse. They gave him a nickname that stayed with him for the rest of his life. They called him "The Duke."


  1. A little encouragement from an understanding adult can help a lot. Find someone who will keep confidence with you. Overcome the shame of admitting you are unable to cope with your situation. Remember, John Wayne couldn't either.
  2. Get mad. Tell yourself that one has the right to mistreat you. Stop being angry with yourself for your inability to cope. Turn it outward where it belongs. Your anger is your power supply. Properly controlled, it gives you courage and confidence. Courage to laugh at someone who punches you, to loudly insult someone who knocks you down. It is wrong to hate, but anger properly directed is good.
  3. Remember that you have an advantage because you are playing for much higher stakes than your enemies are. They are just having fun, showing off, or releiving stress. You are doing it to defend your honor.
  4. Take a course in martial arts. It will give you the confidence that you can protect yourself from physical attacks. John Wayne was taught to box by his friends at the firehouse.
  5. Respond to attacks in a way that is not fun. Instead of looking unhappy, laugh like it is a joke. Try to do the opposite of what they expect you to do.
  6. Whenever someone tries to do something to you, try to find a way that you can turn the tables on him. Afterward, think up the perfect response if he ever tries it again.
  7. Lighten up. Try not to let minor teasing or practical jokes upset you.
  8. Develop a strong relationship with God. Remember that God understands, He is rooting for you, and he is there to help. He will help take away hatred, which poisons the soul.

Note: The Information about John Wayne was from Paul Harvey's "The Rest of the Story."

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Date last updated: November 28, 1998