By Jerry Weichman, Ph.D
Bullying is a hot topic for the school year. It’s likely you’ve already sat through a bullying awareness assembly at school, seen your favorite celebrity blog about standing up to bullies, or read about another tragic teen suicide triggered in part by bullying. And if you haven’t been a victim of a bully, I’d be willing to bet you have witnessed some of this drama firsthand.
“So what?” you’re probably saying. “It’s not like anyone is actually pro-bully.”
It’s not enough just to know the signs of bullying or how to report to your parents or school administrators that you’re being bullied. To be a person of character, to make a difference, to save a life, you have to learn how to be an anti-bully.
When it comes to addressing and ending bullying, it’s not just about dealing with the bully and his/her victim. There’s a third person involved who makes the biggest difference of all: The bystander.
The bystander sees it all: eye rolls, name calling, Facebook posts and likes, Formspring messages, and even the more aggressive bullying techniques like physical violence. But often times the bystander does nothing. After all, were we not taught to mind our own business? Don’t we have our own problems to deal with?
Here’s the deal. The bystander is all of us at one point or another. We’ve all seen people who were treated unjust or victims of mean-girl drama or guy bullying. By not standing up for what’s right, the bystander becomes a contributor of sorts.
When it comes to bullying, the bystander is not innocent. In fact, anti-bullying bystanders who adopt a “cruel’s not cool” mentality can make the biggest impact of all. Think about it. If a bully is shamed by his peers for the names he calls his victim(s) at school or if she is chastised for the false rumors she spreads on Facebook about her victim(s), why would they continue to behave this way? Removing any social stock that a bully feels they obtain via bullying can go a long way to neutralizing this behavior.
Bystanders stay quiet for a variety of reasons but the ones I hear most often have to do with fear of being ostracized themselves or retaliation from a bully. The good news is that all of this bullying awareness has caused parents, school administrators, and even the police to start taking bullying much more seriously. Some might even argue that there is liability for authority figures who don’t take bullying reports more seriously.
So if you see something, say something. It will be ok. As the bystander, you have the power to step in, stand up for what’s right, and maybe even save a life.
Here are five tips about safely reporting what you see:
- Recognize that bullying is not just a schoolyard fight. Social drama, mean girl behavior, and spreading false rumors or name calling online is also considered bullying.
- Report incidences of cyber-bullying, which most parents and administrators don’t see. You can print pages (remove identifying info if you want) to prove what you are seeing.
- Go to the top. While you may have a teacher you feel more comfortable with, most principals and assistant principals have been trained to take bullying reports very seriously.
- Don’t rest. If you witness repeated bullying, say something again or report it to someone else if nothing has been done to stop it.
- Don’t let other people define who you are. You may feel pressured to stay quiet or mind your own business but if you want to be a person of integrity, you’ll stand up for what’s right. Period.
Jerry Weichman, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist focused solely on teen and preteen issues. Dr. Jerry is in private practice at Hoag Hospital’s Neurosciences Institute in Newport Beach. Dr. Jerry is also the author of the teen self-help book How to Deal and is a noted public speaker on teen-related topics including parenting, bullying, and adolescent coping skills. To receive tips for teens and parents, visit DrJerryWeichman.com.