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Posts tagged ‘bullying interventions’

Teaching Our Kids Not to Be Bystanders to Bullying

SOURCE:  Jonathan McKee/FamilyLife Ministry

Most kids on today’s campuses probably fall into the category of “bystander.” They know they should probably do something, but they don’t.

“I feel guilty about it every day,” he told the crowd, a little choked by his own words.

The church youth group was captivated by Blake’s vulnerability.

Blake seemed like a normal high school kid: decent grades, a soccer player, and from a good home. But this particular young man was obviously plagued with guilt.

“I saw him being made fun of every day,” he said, “and I did nothing to stop it.”

Blake went on to share about how the two of them used to be really good friends. They went to the same school, hung out at recess, and went to each other’s birthday parties.

But then came middle school. In middle school you’re judged by who you hang out with, and Blake’s friend was definitely on the nerdy side. Blake’s new soccer friends noticed this and began making fun of him.

“Is he your friend?”

“Why are you hanging out with him?”

So Blake cut off his relationship with his friend.

The situation took a turn for the worse. By high school, Blake’s athletic friends began regularly hurling insults at his old friend during lunch or in gym class. Blake never chimed in. He just watched in silence.

Blake confessed that he could still picture the look on his friend’s face. He was haunted by the image.

As I heard Blake’s story I winced, because I knew the story well.

Blake’s old friend was my son.

Peer Intervention

Blake was never a bully. He was the dictionary definition of a bystander, someone who watches and does nothing. Most kids on today’s campuses probably fall into this category.

But bystanders hurt others just the same. It’s a sin of omission. They know they should probably do something, but they don’t.

We need to equip bystanders to advocate for kids who are bullied. I firmly believe today’s young people are the cure for bullying. I speak to younger people at countless events encouraging and equipping them to stop bullying at the outbreak.

Bystanders don’t need to do what their name implies: stand by. They can stand up and do something.

When bystanders stand up and do something, it’s called peer intervention. I use the term peer intervention because those two words have become buzzwords in bullying research as researchers have come to realize how much difference one kid can make.

We can help our kids truly make a bullying breakthrough by teaching them the 5 Rs:

1. Recognize the effects of bullying

Much recent research has revealed that increased screen time is slowly killing empathy. The more people stare at screens and communicate using screens, the more socially hindered they become. We need to help young people look up from their screens, notice others, and think beyond their own little world.

Whenever I speak to young people about bullying, I always tell plenty of stories. Stories help us all look beyond our own perspective and see through the eyes of others. Stories cultivate compassion and empathy.

Parents and teachers can raise awareness by talking about the effects of bullying and sharing stories that help young people consider the perspective of others. Many bystanders have never paused to think through the ramifications of laughing at someone, teasing them … or watching and doing nothing.

2. Realize you can make a huge impact.

One kid can make a huge difference. Really. Just one.

Countless studies show that one friend is enough to prevent the downward slide toward depression.

A report in the journal Development and Psychopathology revealed, “Just one friend is enough to buffer an anxious, withdrawn child against depression. And it doesn’t have to be a particularly close friend—not an intimate or a confidant, as an adult would understand it, just some kind of social connection with someone their own age.”

We need to help our kids understand just how powerful their simple acts of friendship can be.

Maybe a peer steps in and says, “Hey, that’s not okay.” Or if that’s too risky, maybe they approach the victim later and say, “Would you like to talk?” Those simple gestures are by far the most effective in helping those experiencing bullying.

3. Resolve not to bully others.

Most movements begin with a decision, a commitment, a “resolve.” I think of Daniel in the Bible when he was plucked from the safety of his home and plopped down into a world brimming with temptations. He made a decision, a commitment. He “resolved not to defile himself” (Daniel 1:8).

Whenever I speak to today’s young people, I give them the opportunity to make a public commitment. It’s one thing to be moved with compassion. Commitment puts feet to those feelings.

Compassion without action is nothing.

Resolve is the decision to take actions. Which brings us to specific actions kids can take…

4. Refuse to join in.

One of the most important actions in which kids can engage is in not engaging.

Bystanders have the ability and responsibility to avoid any behaviors that build up bullies by tearing down others. Bullies thrive on attention and affirmation. Give them neither.

So help bystanders learn to avoid the following:

  • Laughing at jokes at the expense of others
  • Listening to rumors, gossip, or hate speech from anyone
  • Physically standing with a group that is mocking or gossiping about others

Refusing to join doesn’t always necessitate speaking up or saying, “Hey, this isn’t okay.” Sometimes bystanders can walk away, or in class they can just keep their attention on their schoolwork.

If bullies don’t receive any affirmation or attention for their mean behavior, they’ll usually stop said behavior.

5. Reach out to someone who is hurting or alone.

The best bullying advice I have ever heard comes from Paul’s letter to the Philippians in the Bible:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:3-5)

Can you imagine if everyone actually lived out this advice? We could cut down on a whole lot of bullying for sure! It’s amazing what simple acts of kindness can do. But these acts are rare. Kids are all about “mine!” Put out two pieces of cake for your two kids and both will grab for the bigger piece. It’s uncommon to find a kid who genuinely offers the bigger piece to their brother or sister.

At school it’s the same. Kids typically value self above others, not the inverse.

But this generation of young people really wants to do something and make a difference. Often, they just don’t know how. It’s an interesting tension. They’re self-centered, but want to help others. Sometimes a caring adult can help connect the dots by showing how to get from A to B.

What would it look like to invite that awkward kid over to hang out after school … knowing full well that it might be awkward?

Passages like the one from Philippians 2 are impactful as we teach our kids how to reach out. Be humble. Consider others better than you. This is what Jesus modeled.

Showing humility and valuing others above self are concepts kids don’t spend much time thinking about, but you’ll be surprised how much kids will rise up when given the opportunity to demonstrate these values.

Bystanders don’t just have to “stand by.” One friend really does make a difference.


Excerpted from The Bullying Breakthrough, copyright © 2018 by Jonathan McKee.

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Bullying: What Parents, Teachers Can Do to Stop It

SOURCE:  American Psychological Association

Questions for bullying expert Susan Swearer, PhD

Susan Swearer, PhD, is an associate professor of School Psychology at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln (UNL) in the Department of Educational Psychology. She is also the co-director of the Nebraska Internship Consortium in Professional Psychology; co-director of the Bullying Research Network and was recently a visiting associate professor of psychology in the Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School. Dr. Swearer is a licensed psychologist in the Child and Adolescent Therapy Clinic at UNL, and is a consultant to National School Violence Prevention Initiative, The Center for Mental Health Services, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Technical Assistance Consultant Pool. She has presented dozens of keynotes and workshops on bullying across the United States.

APA. The news of late seems to be filled with terrible stories about youngsters being bullied, even to the point of suicide. Has bullying become more prevalent or more severe, or is this a case of over-reporting by the media?

Dr. Swearer. We don’t know if bullying has become more prevalent or more severe in recent years. We don’t have national, longitudinal data that can answer this question. What we do know is that bullying is a problem that reaches into the culture, community, school, peer groups and families. The extent of the problem will vary across different communities and schools. In some schools, physical bullying might be particularly prevalent, whereas in another school, cyber-bullying might be particularly prevalent. In some schools, there may be a lot of bullying and in other schools, there may be very little bullying. The media are reporting cases where students commit suicide as a result of being bullied because these cases are so tragic and in some cases, have resulted in lawsuits against the bullies and the schools. We should remember that Dr. Dan Olweus, the Norwegian researcher who started studying bullying in the early 1980s, did so partly as a result of three boys, ages 10 to 14, who committed suicide in 1982 as a result of being bullied. Sadly, this is not a “new” problem.

APA. If a parent or teacher suspects a child is being bullied, what are the most effective steps he/she should take to protect the victim?

Dr. Swearer. Parents and teachers MUST intervene when they see bullying take place. First, they must tell the student(s) who are doing the bullying to stop. They need to document what they saw and keep records of the bullying behaviors. Victims need to feel that they have a support network of kids and adults. Help the student who is being bullied feel connected to school and home. Students who are also being bullied might benefit from individual or group therapy in order to create a place where they can express their feelings openly.

APA. Who is more at risk for suicide if bullied? In other words, are there personality traits or markers that parents and teachers should look for when they know a child is being bullied?

Dr. Swearer. There really is no “profile” of a student who is more at risk for suicide as a result of bullying. In the book Bullycide in America (compiled by Brenda High, published by JBS Publishing Inc. in 2007), mothers of children who have committed suicide as a result of being bullied share their stories. Their stories are all different, yet the commonality is that the bullying their children endured resulted in suicide. We do know that there is a connection between being bullied and depression, and we know that depression is a risk factor for attempting suicide. Therefore, parents and educators should look for signs that a child is experiencing symptoms of depression.

APA. You have been conducting research on a program called “Target Bullying : Ecologically Based Prevention and Intervention for Schools” that looks at bullying and victimization in middle-school-aged youth. Your findings suggest there are certain psychological and social conditions that fuel bullying. What are they and what are the best interventions to stop the cycle?

Dr. Swearer. I have been conducting research on bullying since 1998 and during this time, I have become increasingly convinced that bullying is a social-ecological problem that has to be understood from the perspective that individual, family, peer group, school, community, and societal factors all influence whether or not bullying occurs. The question that I ask students, parents and educators is: “What are the conditions in your school (family, community) that allow bullying to occur?” The answers to that question are then the areas to address for intervention. We write about how to do this in our bookBullying Prevention and Intervention: Realistic Strategies for Schools (by Susan Swearer, Dorothy Espelage and Scott Napolitano, published in 2009 by Guilford Press). Interventions should be based on evidence. Since bullying will vary across schools and communities, each school in this country ought to be collecting comprehensive data on bullying experiences. Then, schools can use their own data to design effective interventions in order to change the conditions that are fueling the bullying in their own school and community.

APA. From your research, what can you tell us about who becomes a bully? Are there different types of bullies? And if someone is a bully as a child, how likely is it that he or she will continue to bully into adulthood?

Dr. Swearer. If we conceptualize bullying from a social-ecological perspective, there is no way to “profile” a bully. If the conditions in the environment are supportive of bullying, then almost anyone can bully. In fact, the mother of a daughter who committed suicide after being bullied once told me that the girls who bullied her daughter were just “regular kids.” The conditions in their small town and small school were breeding grounds for bullying. My research has also looked at the dynamic between bullying and victimization. In one study, we found that kids who were bullied at home by siblings and/or relatives were more likely to bully at school. So, you can see that the dynamic is complex and crosses all areas in which we all function – in our community, family and schools. We do know that if left untreated, children who learn that bullying is an effective way to get what they want are likely to continue bullying behavior into adulthood. Thus, it is critical to intervene and stop the bullying during the school-age years.

APA. How is the growth of social media, such as Facebook and mySpace, affecting bullying?

Dr. Swearer. Technology has definitely impacted bullying. What used to be a face-to-face encounter that occurred in specific locations is now able to occur 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Technology—computers, cell phones and social networking sites — are all conditions that allow bullying to occur. One way to protect our children is to limit and/or monitor their use of this technology. I ask parents, “Would you let your 12-year-old daughter walk alone down a dark alley?” Obviously, the answer is “no.” The follow-up question is, “Then why would you let your 12-year-old daughter be on the computer or be texting unmonitored?” Parents and kids don’t realize the negative side to technology and social networking sites.

APA. Are there any other trends you’re seeing through your research that you’d like the public to know about?

Dr. Swearer. I really want the public to be aware of the link between mental health issues and bullying. As a licensed psychologist in the Child and Adolescent Therapy Clinic at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, I and my colleagues have seen an increase in referrals for bullying-related behaviors. Whether students are involved as bullies, victims, bully-victims (someone who is bullied and who also bullies others) or bystanders, we know that in many cases, depression and anxiety may be co-occurring problems. I always assess for depression and anxiety when I’m working with youth who are involved in bullying. Bullying is a mental health problem.

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