Have you ever been bullied? Have you ever stood by and watched someone else get bullied? What did you do? How did it make you feel?
If you have ever been bullied or witnessed bullying, you are not alone. In the United States, more than 25% of students say they have been bullied at school while 30% of students admit to bullying others. More than 70% of students and staff have witnessed bullying at schools.
Human relationships are at the core of the human experience. Feeling connected and valued in one’s personal relationships and professional relationships promotes healing and harmony. Violence is becoming more and more prevalent in everyday life but it disrupts and (in some cases) destroys relationships, isolates those it affects, and destroys one’s spirit.
Bullying is a form of violence and abuse designed to harm or disturb another person and it can occur at any time and any place. It can be present in many forms.
- Physical abuse can involve hitting, kicking, punching, pulling, or touching someone inappropriately.
- Verbal abuse can involve calling someone names, teasing, taunting, making offensive remarks, criticizing the way they look or act, gossiping, or making fun of someone.
- Social abuse often shows up as excluding someone from group activities, spreading rumors or gossip about them, taunting, making friendship conditional, or giving someone “the silent treatment.”
- Cyber abuse involves the use of electronic media (computers, cell phones, cameras, etc.) to send negative messages, pictures, or information to other people without a person’s permission.
Bullies take advantage of others whom they perceive as vulnerable. Bullying is aggressive, intentional, and occurs when the power balance is not equal. Bullies often don’t perceive themselves as bullies. Instead, they think they are just “kidding with you” or “fooling around” with you. Most bullies have trouble dealing with their own feelings and so they take it out on others. They have often experienced the following:
- Harsh or negative punishment
- Criticisms or put-downs
- Lack of praise or encouragement
- Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
- Lack of mature role models
How to Respond to Bullies
One of the best ways to respond to a bully is to communicate in an assertive way about your thoughts and feelings so you know others know you are serious about what you are saying.
- Be aware of your body language. Stand straight and tall and do not fold your arms across your body as this can be interpreted as defensive.
- Remain calm, even though this can be hard to do in an intimidating situation.
- Maintain your personal space and respect the other person’s personal space.
- Maintain eye contact but try not to stare or intimidate the other person.
- Maintain a constant tone of voice. Avoid talking too loudly, too fast, or too softly.
- State what you need using “I” phrases, such as “I would appreciate it if you would….”
You can also respond to bullies by walking away, ignoring them, and/or finding help from family, friends, teachers, neighbors, or others.
People who witness bullying can respond to bullying behaviors as well. Ensuring a safe situation is critical and if a bystander fears for his/her safety or the safety of the person being bullied, that individual needs to call for help immediately. Bystanders to abusive behavior are often frightened of retaliation, fearful of their own safety, the bullying actually amuses them, or watching makes them feel strong.
If a bystander does not do something in a bullying situation, they are actually encouraging the situation. When someone intervenes in a bullying situation, the vast majority of bullying STOPS.
Crises don’t usually appear spontaneously. If you are witnessing an escalating bullying situation, do something! The de-escalation of a potentially violent situation is a powerful way to reduce the possibility of a negative or violent outcome before it gets out of hand. Ways for a bystander to help include these suggestions:
- Find another person and form a group of at least 3 people. Bullies are more likely to stop if a group of people makes a stand against them.
- Stay calm and do not clap, boo, or scream at the bully.
- Call for help, if needed.
- Ask the target, “Do you need help?”
- Distract the bully and say, “Someone is coming” or “We’ve just called the police.”
- Say in an assertive voice, “STOP!” or “You are being a bully!”
For more ideas, visit www.stopbullying.gov.
One of the best ways to prevent bullying is to BE KIND. It makes you feel good, is contagious, and reduces stress, anxiety, aggression, depression, and the feeling of being disconnected from others. It makes us happy, energetic, more satisfied with our lives, and improves our physical and mental health. For great ideas on how to include small acts of kindness in your everyday life, visit www.kindness-365.org or www.randomactsofkindness.org.
The impacts of violence and bullying on people are devastating and they affect every aspect of a person’s life. Every individual has the right to live and work in a healthy environment free of abusive behavior. The prevention of violence and bullying is an important safety issue and requires leadership and commitment from every citizen. Kindness helps prevent bullying and is contagious!
Leutenberg, E., & Liptak, J. (2015). Teen aggression & bullying workbook. Duluth, MN: Whole Person.
Stopbullying.gov. (2018). Facts about bullying. Retrieved October 2, 2018 from https://www.stopbullying.gov/media/facts/index.html