By Deb Murphy, Youth Services Specialist
Bullying is mean and it hurts. In this article we’re going to talk a little about what bullying is and what you can do to keep yourself and others safer.
When I looked up the definition of bullying, I found that there are lots of ways to talk about this subject. They all have a few things in common. First thing - the power between the people involved isn’t equal. The bully is using their power to hurt and control the victim. The victim has a hard time defending themselves. Second thing - the bully is trying to control and hurt. It’s not an accident or mistake. Third thing - the hurtful behavior happens more than once. So someone being mean one time doesn’t necessarily mean they are a bully, they might have just made a mistake or having a bad day.
There’s all kinds of ways to bully. A few of them are:
Verbal – teasing, name calling, put down, threats that aren’t fun and aren’t play.
Physical – pinching, shoving, punching, knives, guns
Social – this one can be really complicated and mean. It could be starting untrue rumors about someone. It could be making sure someone is never invited to fun things anymore.
Cyberbullying – this happens on line, on the phone and goes on 24/7.
You know, I was surprised at how many resources talk just about the bully and the victim. I found a really good paper (OK – got to do this to be fair – Smith, P.K. (2004). Bullying: Recent Developments. Child and Adolescent Mental Health, 9(3), 98-103.) that talks about everyone involved in bullying. They divided people up as:
Ringleaders – these are the people who start the bullying.
Followers – these are the people who join in once the bullying has started.
Bystanders (Smith calls them Reinforcers) – these people give the bully the audience s/he is looking for.
Defenders – these are the people who say “stop” or go get help from adults.
Outsiders – people who are not involved in and don’t know about the bullying.
This is a lot of people! In cyberbullying, this could be hundreds of people!
OK, that’s nice. But I’m being bullied! What do I do?
First things first – understand this is not your fault! Be proud of who and what you are no matter what someone else says to you. Please, don’t be afraid to ask an adult for help. Choose an adult who you think will help.
Next step – staying safe. No matter what is going on, your first job is to keep yourself safe. If it is safe to do so, tell the bully to stop. If you can’t do that, walk or run away. If you can’t get away, and they are hitting you, curl up and protect your head.
Once you know you are a target, you need to work to help keep yourself safer. Again, tell an adult you think will help you what is going on. Find a way to avoid the bully. Stay with other people so the bully can’t get you alone.
I think one of the big problems bullies and followers have is they don’t understand how badly they are hurting the other person. If you are a bully, please stop – it isn’t cool or funny, you’re doing real damage. If you can’t stop, please talk to a trusted adult and ask them to help you. You too are worthy of love and support.
If you’re not sure you’re a bully, ask the other person. Say something like “hey, I thought I was just teasing. Did I really hurt you? I’m sorry!” Note – this is not a way to get away from consequences, people can tell if you are lying.
If you made a mistake or you’re trying to be a better person: APOLOGIZE! Make a commitment to treat people better next time. Again, ask for help if you need it.
As for bystanders , the ones who say “I didn’t do anything, I was just there!” Nice story, but not true. Remember, someone is getting hurt! Help if you can, walk away if you can’t but take away the bully’s audience. Later, let the victim know you saw what happened and you’re sorry it happened to them. You need to make it right too. Let an adult know what happened.
Don't Be a Hero
Now we come to the defender, to the person who wants to stop the violence in front of them. That’s great, but please remember, you could get hurt. If you’re not sure it’s safe to break it up, go get an adult to help. Let the victim know later you helped.
Bullying hurts all of us and all of us can work together to stop it.
Photo: Steven Fernandez on Flickr