Bullying Prevention: How to Empower Bystanders to Act

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The Basics of Bullying

Bullies are not born bullies. Any toddler may display aggressive, self-centered behavior. Without proper guidance and handling, such a child can become a bully.

Bullies choose their victims carefully. In classic predator-prey dynamics, victims are singled out as (perceived) easy targets. They also learn how to get others to identify victims thus normalizing the bully’s behavior.

Bullies don’t see themselves as bullies. Research shows that bullies do not understand the feelings of others. Therefore, they see themselves in a positive light.

Bullies develop thanks to the technology explosion. Firstly, this is due to tech advances. Electronic devices allow bullies to access victims anonymously, globally, and 24/7. Also, generations are being raised on tech devices and are not developing basic, face-to-face social skills. Many people view solving social problems simply as un-friending, trolling, or flaming.

The Role of Bystanders

Regardless of the method of transmission, no bully wants to deal with those who empower bystanders. There are statistics to back this up.

For example, in terms of school-based bullying, each day, about 160,000 students skip school due to fear of bullying. However, when bystanders feel empowered to act, they can stop the bullying within 10 seconds in more than half of the instances.

Interestingly, the positive impact is also felt by the intervening bystanders.

Those who have witnessed bullying but remained “neutral” report feelings of guilt and shame. It’s almost as if they felt they were also being a bully. Those who do intervene experience a self-esteem boost and the satisfaction of taking action in the face of danger.

4 Ways to Empower Bystanders to Act Against Bullying

1. Learn three essential words: “I believe you”

Part of bullying involves gaslighting. That means, bullies intimidate victims and witnesses into doubting the evidence of their senses.

A powerful first step is to let the victim know you believe them. That you take their fears and shame seriously. This is true when dealing with any victim of abuse.

To empower bystanders or anyone else to take action, validate the victim’s experience.

2. Educate yourself and others

An increasingly widespread issue, bullying has been around for a long time. Thanks to modern advances like instant messaging, social media, and video chats, bullies have far greater reach and impact today.

The numbers are staggering. For example, roughly 40 percent of suicide victims experienced bullying in their life.

It’s easy, due to misinformation, to downplay bullying as “normal”—saying, some people are just timid while others are bossy. By taking the time to learn about the reality of bullying, you are honoring the victims and empowering yourself to act.

3. Become a role model

Practice empathy. Model a compassionate lifestyle.

Yes, there are times when you must confront the bullies with power. But most times, you can greet the world with nuance and open-mindedness. Every time you do so, you show others it is possible.

4. Stand up for those being bullied

This is the most fundamental form of action.

At the moment, a victim of bullying isn’t worried about nuance, statistics, or theory. They need immediate help. Stepping up for them may feel daunting but it’s the life-affirming choice.

The Opposite of Bullying

Bullies make everyone feel unsafe. Even if we’re not targeted, we usually dread the potential of being singled out. Therapy sessions are where we can feel safe.

In that environment, we can talk about being bullied and/or learn how to stand up for those who are. In a safe space, we are free to express fear and become empowered to conjure bold new ideas.