NOTE: This lesson covers how to respond to someone who is being mean to you. If, after working through the lesson with your students, you discern that any of them are in a situation that involves cyberbullying rather than just the occasional mean comment, explore the resources available at https://www.stopbullying.gov/cyberbullying/what-is-it/ if you aren’t sure how to handle it.
- What’s a troll? (We’re looking for the definition of an Internet As your students may already know, a troll is “a person who starts quarrels or upsets people on the Internet . . . by posting inflammatory . . . messages in an online community” [Wikipedia].)
- Have you ever run into a troll who said mean things about you online? (Sadly, many young Internet users have had this experience. Let your students share briefly about their encounters with trolls.)
- How did you respond to the troll? (Encourage students to answer honestly, whether their responses were commendable or not.)
Mean comments are a fact of Internet life. One study found that “40% of Internet users [are] victims of online harassment” (NIH). That means that if you take any ten people from our church, four of them have been trolled. And I’m guessing the number is even higher for middle schoolers.
We can’t stop others from being mean, but there are ways to handle it wisely.
- How do you think middle schoolers should handle online trolls? (Students may have heard the advice “Don’t feed the trolls”—in other words, ignore nasty comments instead of responding to them. It’s also wise to block a troll from posting on your social media account, and to report the person to the website where the troll is spreading nastiness. If a student has an ongoing problem with the same person or group of people, it has probably evolved into bullying and is time to get an adult involved.)
When someone is mean to us, our first response is often to say something mean right back. In other words, we want to fight trolling with trolling! But you already know that isn’t the Christian response.
- If the Internet had existed at the time of Jesus, how do you think He would have responded to trolls? (While Jesus didn’t have a smartphone, He endured plenty of “offline trolling.” He could even tell what people were thinking about Him! He always demonstrated love for His critics, even when they said or thought hateful or untrue things about Him.)
It’s not easy to respond to mean people with love, whether they’re trolling online or in real life. But Jesus taught us how. Let’s learn more about how to love a troll.
Anyone Can Become a Troll: Causes of Trolling Behavior in Online Discussions
Looking for Steps 2 & 3?
You can find Steps 2 and 3 in your teacher’s guide; your Step 4 appears below. To purchase a teacher's guide, please visit: Bible-in-Life or Echoes
- Internet access
- Optional: Whiteboard and marker
Responding in love when people say or do mean things is hard. In fact, “love your enemies” may be the hardest command Jesus ever gave.
Living in the Internet age only makes it harder. When you’re the victim of an online troll, it’s really tough not to troll them back. However, it’s possible to show love to anyone
. . . even a troll.
Hand each student a sheet of paper and a pen or pencil. A Youtuber named Brigitte knows what it’s like to get treated badly online. However, she’s decided not to return evil for evil. She’s developed four strategies to demonstrate love toward mean people.
Write down Brigitte’s strategies as she mentions each one in this video. Write each of Brigitte’s strategies for dealing with trolls on your whiteboard as she mentions them so that your students can copy them.
- Have empathy (because “hurt people hurt people”).
- Don’t take it personally.
- Don’t fight fire with fire.
- Think before you speak. Respond, don’t react.
Show your students the following video [6:14].
HOW TO RESPOND TO HATE (with love)
- Which part of Brigitte’s advice do you think is the most valuable when you have to deal with a troll? Why does it stand out to you? (Encourage students to justify which bit of wisdom from the video is their favorite.)
Sadly, there’s a good chance that every one of us will run into a troll this week—whether online or in real life. That’s why I hope you’ll take home your paper where you wrote down Brigitte’s advice. Encourage your students to read through each point this week to familiarize themselves with the strategy in case a troll crosses their path. They might also want to discuss the points with a parent to get their feedback.
Don’t fall into the temptation of trolling the troll. Instead, respond in love! Brigitte’s advice for dealing with haters can help you do that. So can Jesus’ advice: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Let’s all work to do that in the week ahead and beyond.
Close in prayer.
(David C Cook is not affiliated with and does not endorse any website or any other media listed on these pages. At the time of writing, David C Cook editors carefully review the referenced material and non-referenced web page content. However, due to the nature of the Internet, non-cited content on the website [including pop-ups, links, and ads] changes frequently and is beyond our control. Please review carefully before showing links in the classroom.)