How Religious Bullying at School Impacts Teens

Muslim teen being bullied in school

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Being different is one of the most common reasons why kids are bullied. As a result, it should come as no surprise that teens are often bullied because of their religion, especially if it is not a common belief system.

For example, Muslim girls who wear hijabs (head scarves) and Sikh boys who wear patch or daystar (turbans) are often targeted simply for wearing visible symbols of their religion. But the bullying is not limited to non-Western religions. Anyone can be bullied because of their faith.

Research on Religious Bullying

Although the research on religious bullying is minimal, it has become apparent over the last several years that this type of bullying is becoming more prevalent. Not surprisingly, the 2016 election produced an alarming level of fear and anxiety among children, especially Muslim children.

In fact, an informal study conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center found that more than one-third of teachers polled have seen an increase in anti-Muslim sentiment. Meanwhile, several other reports also indicate a rise in anti-Muslim and anti-Sikh bullying. This is largely due to a perceived association between their religious heritage and terrorism, especially after 9/11.

For instance, Muslim families have suffered because of a fanatical minority within their faith. Even though these children have nothing to do with terrorist activity, they can feel the brunt of religious bullying from their peers.

The Impact of Religious Bullying

Because religious bullying is often severe, faith leaders worry that bullying hinders a teen's spiritual development and growth. It also may cause him to question his faith and beliefs. No teenager should ever feel like he deserves to be bullied because he holds a different set of beliefs.

Most would agree that regardless of a person's religious beliefs if they are not harmful to themself or others, they should be allowed to embrace and pursue their faith in peace. After all, a teen's religion is just as much a part of them as their nationality, appearance, intelligence, skills, and interests.

As a result, his religion should never lead to him being targeted, bullied, and ostracized. Every teen should be allowed to worship how he wants without being afraid of being bullied for his beliefs.

How to Address It at School

Religious bullying is a growing issue in the United States. In fact, many speculate that religious bullying and hate are more prominent now than ever. As a result, if you are a teacher or an administrator, it is crucial that you address religious bullying and prevent it from occurring within your school.

You have a responsibility to create a safe and nurturing climate that promotes learning. Here are three ways to make that happen.

Prioritize Discussions About Different Religions

Begin by talking with students about any misconceptions they have about particular religions. Sometimes bullying occurs because teens do not understand or are fearful about certain religious beliefs, which can cause prejudicial bullying. But if you discuss differences openly and honestly, teens will become more accepting and tolerant of those that are different than they are.

Increase Teacher Awareness

Train your teachers on how to handle religious bullying. No bullying prevention program will be effective without the support of your teachers and staff members. As a result, be sure to train them on how to spot bullying and resolve bullying issues. They may even benefit from classroom management tips that go a long way in bullying prevention.

Most importantly, be sure they have a solid understanding of the various religions that are represented within your school. This way, they can dispel any myths and clear up any misconceptions, which in the end will help prevent religious bullying.

Encourage parent involvement. Prevention of religious bullying is much more effective when the entire community is involved. For instance, schools can develop special programs, like multicultural celebrations, where parents can come in and share their beliefs and their culture. The key is to get parents involved. Without their involvement, prevention programs geared toward religious bullying will not be as effective.

How to Respond

It can feel overwhelming, confusing and painful when your teen experiences religious bullying. But there are some things you can do to help your child respond in an appropriate way. Here are five ways you can respond to religious bullying:

Know What the Law Says

When bullying based on religion is severe and ongoing, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division may be able to intervene under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act. Keep in mind that religious bullying is often not based on the religion itself but on shared ethnic characteristics. When this happens, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights also may be able to intervene under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

Notify the School

Anytime bullying takes place at school, the appropriate administrators and teachers should be notified. Doing so allows them to investigate and intervene right away. Bullying should never be ignored as a result, it is important both teachers and parents take every bullying complaint seriously. Not only does this demonstrate to the student that they are concerned about their safety but it also shows the victims of bullying that they do not need to tolerate religious bullying.

Contact the Police

Sometimes religious bullying involves violence, harassment, threats of violence, and cyberbullying. And if they do, these types of harassment may be against the law. Even if the police can do nothing about it, it is a good idea to at least file a complaint. At least then the complaint will be on file in case the bullying escalates.

Ensure Your Child's Safety

Religious bullying can be particularly dangerous, especially if the bullies are targeting your child out of fear and a belief that your teen's religion affiliates him with terrorist groups. As a result, you need to make sure the school is taking steps to ensure your child's safety.

This might mean a new schedule, a safe route to classes with teachers posted along the way and a new locker assignment. Just be sure you are in regular communication with administrators about your teen's needs.

Help Your Child Cope

Dealing with religious bullying can be particularly painful because it attacks teens at the core of who they are. As a result, it is not uncommon for victims of religious bullying to experience stress, anxiety, and even depression. In severe cases, they may even contemplate suicide. As a result, it is crucial that you take steps to help your child heal from religious bullying.

If you or your child are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

A Word From Verywell

The more that religious bullying is exposed and challenged, the less often it will occur in the school environment. Fighting prejudicial bullying on all fronts gives teens a greater incentive to speak out against bullying and tackle the problem rather than standing silently on the sidelines.

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Pew Research Center. U.S. Muslims Concerned About Their Place in Society, but Continue to Believe in the American Dream.

  2. Southern Poverty Law Center. The Trump Effect: The Impact of the Presidential Campaign on Our Nation's Schools.

  3. Department of Justice. Types of educational opportunities discrimination.

Additional Reading

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert.