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Bystanders Are Bullies Too

Getting the bystander involved is how we can create a “tipping point.” The power of the majority lies with the bystanders. Their silence is a statement of permission and acceptance of the aggression. Our job is to make it safe for bystanders to take a stand and get involved. If they are turning their backs to what they see, hear and know, their passivity and tolerance is contributing to the problem. Clearly, if you are not part of the solution, you are a part of the problem.

Bystanders must be taught the difference between tattling and telling. Tattling is getting someone into trouble, whereas telling is getting someone out of trouble. Can those who attempt to help and rescue then become the next victim or target? Absolutely. That is why it is our responsibility to structure the program so there are no unwanted consequences for those who do nothing and could. Moreover, we as parents, teachers, and adults must make it safe for bystanders to reach out and report incidents.

Although a system of remaining anonymous is subject to abuse, it certainly has to be offered whether it is a suggestion box in the hallways or some general area where it is not conspicuous to report incidents. All comments must be kept confidential because just one incident where the bystander becomes a victim will put an end to anyone speaking up and reporting ever again.

You’re Either Part of the Solution, or Part of the Problem

Albert Einstein, one of the world’s greatest scientists, said, “The world is a dangerous place; not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look and do nothing.” While Einstein was referring to bullies who capture the reins of political, economic and military powers, any witness to abuse or intolerance is not an innocent bystander. It is always our choice to speak, act or tragically look away.

To be a part of the solution, everyone must be proactive and become a problem solver. A bystander must no longer passively observe others being bullied without taking action. She must upgrade herself from a bystander to an upstander.

With 85% of kids being on the fence as bystanders, converting them to upstanders where they take a stand against bullying is where a major shift can occur. Since children do carry weapons, everyone feels at risk and, in fact, they are. Children need to assess the danger of the situation carefully to know how and when they should intervene without becoming a victim themselves.

Bullies are less likely to attack someone if they have at least one friend or person who supports them. As you take a deep breath and assume your power position and speak calmly and with certainty, you can make a difference. You can also remove the target from the situation. Those attacked are often so emotionally paralyzed that they become immobilized and forget that they can walk away. They may simply need permission to take a stand or take action.

When the threat is too great to intervene directly, calling 911 on a cell phone is now often an option, giving most kids quick access to help from authorities. You can also take a leadership role and assign bystanders to go for help from teachers or adults in the area. Fear can often create a sense of powerlessness and helplessness where we forget that we do have choices and we can act. Remember, there is strength in numbers so rather than fight it alone, quickly mobilize all those standing around.

By doing mental rehearsals and role-playing, the stance of upstanders will better prepare children to deal with such situations effectively. You might have a contest

in which students submit the best ideas on how to take action as an upstander, or have them write a story or essay on being an upstander. You want them to “feel” their new proactive role.

Children need to learn how to deal with their fears whether the target or the bystander. Some fears serve us well and we need to respect them as survival signs that are warnings to keep us safe. Other fears and threats given by bullies are intended to immobilize us from reporting incidents and seeking help. Those we must overcome.

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