Chances are, most of us can remember a time in school where we were either bullied or witnessed someone else being bullied. According to the U.S. Department on Crime, 160,000 students miss school each day for fear of being bullied. Imagine going to school and being called names, “accidentally” bumped into or excluded from activities with peers. Problems with bullying begin early in elementary school, intensify in middle school and can continue into high school. How does this happen? What can we do to stop it?
Bullying occurs when a person or group of people intentionally and repetitively target someone who is unable to defend themselves. Most students are not bullies or targets; they are referred to as bystanders. Bystanders, although they may not realize it, can have a big influence in stopping bullying; they just need to have the courage to stand up for what is right.
My work with Lee’s Summit CARES involves facilitating anti-bullying programs with students in kindergarten through high school. Through my work I have learned many students fear retribution (becoming the victim themselves) if they stand up for someone being mistreated. Some students go along with bullying even though they know it is wrong because they want to maintain their position in their peer group. The majority of students know that bullying is not ok but feel powerless to stop it.
So how can we as parents help our kids navigate this difficult problem? Teach your child to have the courage to standing up for peers that need support. For example:
Teach your child that showing courage does not mean confronting a bully. Instead, teach your child to check in with the person who is being targeted. Just saying, “are you ok? What he/she did to you was wrong” can show the targeted student that he or she is not alone and not at fault. Your child doesn’t need to become best friends with the target, but acknowledging the offense goes a long way.
Another effective strategy is to encourage the bystander to have the courage tell an adult. When informing an adult, have them start by expressing any concerns about being “found out” by the bully. Then describe the behaviors taking place, sharing who is involved last. Often times, even good students are involved in the behavior. By sharing the name last this will help the adult to hear what is taking place first and focus on the behavior without reacting first to the ‘who’. If your child is uncomfortable telling, it is appropriate for you to do the telling for him or her, especially if it’s a situation with younger children.
Finally, talk to your child about not participating or encouraging bullying behavior. Speak with your child about using his/her courage to ignore the peer pressure to join. Have your child or teen consider how he or she would feel if targeted. For example, if your child sees a malicious post about a peer online, he or she should not comment but rather report the problem to the website monitor. Don’t forward rumors or texts that are harmful to another person; if you do, you become a participant in the abuse. If someone is calling another person names, don’t laugh or join the group.
Most importantly, kids learn how to behave by watching the adults around them and by being held accountable when they make poor choices. We as adults need to model good behavior by not judging others or gossiping. If you learn that your youth has mistreated another person, make sure he or she understands that this behavior is never acceptable. Use logical consequences to help shape future, and have the courage to expect the best from your child. Praising good character goes a long way in raising honest, caring and positive adults.
Kerri Gray is a member of Lee’s Summit CARES and a Lee’s Summit resident.