Back in the day you were called a "snitch" if you told on someone. And you'd never "rat out" bullies for fear of becoming their next target. So tattling behavior got a bad rap, while bad behavior got overlooked. The bullies gained power; the victims lost hope, along with their self-esteem. Fast-forward to the present and you'll find a good many adults who hesitate to act when they hear about or witness bullying, because they look back on it as a normal part of growing up.
But the truth is, there's nothing "normal" about it. This is a different era. Bullying is neither normal nor a phase. It's repeated deliberate abusive activity that's harmful, hostile, and demoralizing.
These are not the moral stepping stones to a healthy, happy childhood. There's nothing gained developmentally by enduring abuse from others or by those dishing it out.
So if you're an adult and you learn of a bullying situation, step up. You can make a tremendous difference in kids' lives and in your community. Here are a handful of ways.
- Intervene. Don't just stand there, do something. If you suspect a child or teen is being bullied, follow your suspicions. Report what you've seen or heard to teachers and parents. If your instincts are correct, follow through. Make sure actions are taken to help the victim and to end the bullying.
- Be present every day in some way. Go to school. Visit recess. Make your presence known for your kids, grandkids and others around them. Bullying statistics flood the Internet and for good reason. There's a ready supply of "research candidates" out there. But a consistent fact is that 67 percent of bullying happens in the absence of adults. The solution is obvious. Be visibly present often. Work out a schedule with other parents to make "random" but regular visits.
- Practice what you preach. Model good behavior. If kids hear you speaking or behaving rudely to others, they'll do the same. Instead, model kindness and understanding. And while you're at it, teach them to be good witnesses. Being a rat's where it's at if it means outing a bully (even anonymously) and making sure he or she stops.
- Move along. Don't be a bystander. If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem. A bystander gives the bully an unspoken power to continue his or her behavior with the knowledge that nothing's going to happen to him or her. It also makes the victim feel even more helpless and hopeless, believing that no one can or will help. Instead, intervene immediately. Depending on the situation and the age of those involved, seek another adult to assist (a teacher, parent, police, etc.) Separate the kids involved. Make sure everyone is safe. Stay calm. And model respectful behavior throughout the process.
- Change minds. Spread the word: Bullying is not a normal childhood phase. It's an abnormal activity that must be identified as such, prevented from an early age and stopped whenever it presents itself.
Be sure to check back later in the week to find out if your community's schools are doing their part to prevent and eliminate bullying. Until then, check out these additional resources to learn more about what you can do to stop bullying when you encounter it.