Our last couple of posts have been dedicated to helping parents understand and deal with the reality and ramifications of bullying, both if their kids are the victims, or if they’re the bullies. Today we’ll shift gears a bit and address “innocent,” bystanders – that’s you. What you should do if you see someone being bullied.
Seeing bullying in action will probably awaken some powerful feelings in your heart: sympathy for the victim, stress about the situation itself, fear regarding the potential violence – maybe even empathy for the bully. When you see something going on that you don’t like, these feelings are perfectly natural, as is your possible hesitance to get involved with something that “doesn’t involve you.”
But here’s the thing. It does involve you.
If you’re different at all – if you get good grades, if you wear glasses, if you don’t dress the way others think you should dress, you or your friends could be the victim next time. That’s one reason that it’s important for you to act when you see bullying. Also, sticking up for the underdog is just the right thing to do.
Here are some tips for how to step in without getting hurt yourself, or making the situation worse.
- First of all, treat everyone around you with respect. By setting a great, respectful example, you’ll be stopping a certain amount of bullying before it even begins. Think before you say something hurtful. You’re going to have mean thoughts and that’s OK. But you don’t have to express every thought that pops into your brain. As Thumper’s mom said, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.”
- Don’t join in the bullying. Participating in the victimization is the worse possible thing for you to do, even if the temptation to do so is there. For example if you don’t like the victim yourself, or if you’ve been a victim yourself in the past, and are secretly afraid that if you say anything the unwanted attention will shift to you. Don’t be a jerk.
- Stand up for the victim. This will take a lot of courage, but probably what will happen if you stand up to the bully is that they’ll be too shocked, embarrassed, and maybe afraid to continue, so they’ll back down. Bullies depend on people being too scared to stand up to them.
- Buddy up with someone. There’s strength in numbers, so if you find a friend or a group of friends who’ll always stick up for you, and for whom you’ll always stick up, hang with them during the most vulnerable times – between classes, over lunch hour or recess, after school, etc.
- Tell an adult (for our younger readers). You won’t be a snitch or a tattle tale, and don’t let the bullies and their “friends,” tell you differently. You’ll be preventing someone from being needlessly hurt in the future. A teacher, principal, or parent will have a better idea about how to handle the situation. If you’re afraid of what might happen later if the bully finds out you “told on her,” ask the adult to keep your name private.
- Offer help to the victim. After the incident is over, one of the most powerful gestures you can make is simply to offer the victim a hand up, or give them someone to talk to. Make sure they’re OK and encourage them to talk to someone about what happened.
As scary as it might be, stepping in to help prevent or stop a bullying incident will be good for you in the long run. You’ll gain respect among your peers, possibly make some new friends, and gain the self-respect that comes with knowing that you had the insight to identify that something wasn’t right, and the courage to do something about it.