Recently a friend shared that her son had witnessed a classmate being mercilessly teased by another student. Although she said he obviously felt bad for what had happened, when she asked what he had done about it, he looked surprised and said, "Nothing."
The repercussions of bullying are enormous. It is estimated that 160,000 students miss school every day because they are afraid of being bullied, and that bullied students are around 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims. Bullying can diminish a person's well being, physical health, and even change the structure of an adolescent's brain, putting victims at greater risk for mental illness. It is a huge problem, and it needs to be addressed, but we can't expect teens to handle it on their own.
Standing up to bullies isn't easy. Teens might be afraid of being ineffective or making things worse for the victim. They may also be afraid of becoming a target of bullying themselves if they speak up. The easiest and best thing teens can do to stop bullying is to nip it in the bud before it happens. I love the Sit With Us App which was created by a teenager after eating lunch alone for a year in middle school, and often finding herself the victim of bullying because of this.
Bullies are most likely to pick on people who they perceive as weak, which often means that children who find themselves alone or who struggle to make friends are at risk. Sit With US allows teens to coordinate lunches with their friends, and to post open lunch events on campus where everyone can be included. Other ways to prevent bullying include befriending new students, or performing acts of kindness, and challenging peers to do the same. In honor of National Bullying Preventing Month, Stomp Out Bullying is also providing space for teens to share anti-bullying videos of their own creation, as well as inspirational anti-bullying stories.
But what if teens do find themselves at the scene of the crime, as my friend's son did? Validating for your teenager how difficult it is to intervene is important. Asking questions about how they could be involved in stopping bullying is also important. Teens should always be made to feel free to report incidents of bullying to counselors, teachers, parents or supervisors. Adults have the ability to step in and manage a bullying situation when teens may not.