We all have memories of our childhood, some good some bad, some for better others for worse. Whether you were a victim, bully, or bystander, bullying has impacted us all. For me, I was in elementary school and there was a girl I distinctly remember people picking on. Kids would call her names, make fun of her hair, or shoes, or whatever irrelevant detail it was for that particular day. I don’t remember ever personally picking on her, but I know for a fact I never said or did anything to defend her. I was a silent bystander. When I was in 7th grade I learned she had taken her own life. I have always wondered if someone had stood up and not been the silent bystander if it would have changed her path.
According to research about 22% of high school students (one out of every four students) report being bullied during the school year. Bullying is a multifaceted problem with three main players: 1) the bully, 2) the victim, and 3) the bystander. The bystander is the person who sees the situation unfold and makes a choice to either contribute to the bullying behavior, quietly watch, or actively step in and stand up for the victim. Research has shown that about 57% of bullying incidents stop when a peer intervenes on behalf of the student being bullied and has a stronger impact compared to adult/educator intervention.
Teens are motivated and influenced by what their peers are doing, reading, buying, wearing, etc. The bystanders who make the choice to actively do something can positively impact not just the victim, but also the bully and all those standing around as well. Stepping into a difficult situation, such as with bullying, is not an easy thing to do. There are many teens that fear embarrassment, ridicule, and the potential of becoming victims of bullying themselves if they stand up for the victim. Some ways to address bullying can include:
- talking to the bully privately to let him/her know the behavior is not appropriate
- talk to the victim in private and show support for him/her
- tell an adult in private about the bullying
- publicly stand up to the bully, which is a little more risky (for the bystander) but potentially very effective
How can we teach our children not to tolerate or participate in bullying? I believe one of the best ways is to nurture our children and have discussions about bullying. The strongest emotion we can nurture in our children is empathy. When having discussions with teens about bullying, questions they should ask themselves include “What if that was me?”, “How would I feel?”, “What would I want someone to do for me?”. These questions can be powerful ways to promote opportunities for kids to reflect on their own behavior and behavior of others, possibly giving them a different perspective.
As parents, we do our very best to make sure our children know they are loved, valued, and important. The last thing we want is for someone to make them feel inadequate through acts of bullying. By showing our love for them, we hope it will help them gain self-esteem, confidence, and become kind, responsible adults. We cannot control behavior of the bully or the response of others around them, but we can equip our own children with the tools needed to respond with empathy. By planting the seed of kindness and love in our children the hope is that it will spread to those around them.