How to Not Be a Bystander to Bullying In the U.S.

How to Not Be a Bystander to Bullying In the U.S.

One out of every three students has experienced bullying at school. This startling statistic comes from a 2019 report published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Bullying isn’t a rarity, it’s a rampant issue that all students must be prepared to deal with.

What is bullying?

Merriam-Webster describes bullying as “abuse and mistreatment of someone vulnerable by someone stronger, more powerful.”

It can take several different forms:

1. Physical bullying

Physical bullying constitutes acts such as hitting, spitting on, or pinching someone. Making rude gestures at a person is another instance of physical bullying.

2. Verbal bullying

Verbal bullying can range from taunting, teasing, and name-calling, to threatening to cause bodily harm.

3. Social bullying

Spreading rumors, humiliating, and ostracizing someone are all examples of social bullying.

4. Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying refers to embarrassing or harassing someone by using digital resources such as email or social media channels. Making and sharing derogatory memes, circulating objectionable images and videos, or purposely editing images and videos to humiliate an individual are all instances of cyberbullying.

The one common theme with all types of bullying is that the experience is made worse by the presence of witnesses. Bystanders impact the bullied in several ways:

  1. The presence of spectators worsens the feeling of humiliation.
  2. The bystanders’ inaction makes the bully appear invulnerable.
  3. The victim may regard the bystanders as individuals that support their mistreatment. This makes them feel all the more lonely and helpless.

Why do bystanders to bullying fail to act?

At times, the bystanders simply don’t know how to respond. International students that come across bullying in U.S. schools may fail to identify certain actions as bullying. This can stem from both cultural differences and language barriers.

One reason for a bystander’s inaction is the fear of retaliation. They’re afraid that intervening can make them a target as well, and so, they choose to remain spectators.

Bystanders may also fail to act if they’re friends with the bully. They might not want to lose their social standing.

The most common reason bystanders don’t say anything is that they simply don’t know what they can do to help.

What can you do if you witness an act of bullying?

You can always make a positive difference by becoming an up-stander – someone who intervenes either vocally or physically, and tries to put an end to bullying. Here are the best ways to be an up-stander:

1. Be vocal

At times, just speaking up can put an end to bullying. Are you familiar with the bully or otherwise confident there’s no physical threat involved? If so, a simple “cut it out” shout can do the trick.

If the bullying occurs over a social media channel or in the classroom, you can use tact and humor to stop it. Diverting the flow of the conversation is another simple way of limiting the damage. If it’s a rumor that you know is false, simply sharing your knowledge can kill the rumor.

If you’re not feeling confident enough to intervene, hurry up and seek help from a friend, professor, or school official.

2. Don’t support the act in any way

Even simple, seemingly harmless acts such as cheering or laughing at the bully’s jokes can be damaging to the victim. If you hear a rumor or receive a text or email sent with the intent to bully someone, do not propagate the message. Make sure, however, to save the text or email as evidence.

3. Document the incident

At times, the incident of bullying is over before you have the time to react. It can also be too traumatizing for you to remember the details later on.

If you’re feeling safe, making a video of the incident is a good idea. Be very careful, however, that the video doesn’t end up in the wrong hands.

If you’re unable to make a video, write down everything you can remember about the incident immediately after it happens.

4. Speak to the victim

Bullying can make the victim feel isolated and helpless. Try to seek out and have a word with the victim as soon as possible. This small, kind gesture can do the victim a world of good.

If the victim appears to be in need of medical or psychological help, guide them to the relevant aid provider. Also, encourage them to share the issue with a parent, teacher, or counselor.

5. Speak to the bully

Bullying isn’t always intentional or malicious. At times, children and young adults can simply take a joke too far, or fail to grasp the gravity of their actions. If the perpetrator of bullying happens to be your friend or acquaintance, speaking to them can be a good move.

Make sure you discuss the specifics of the damaging actions that were performed, and how they can affect the victim. If the bully isn’t apologetic or doesn’t view those actions as hurtful, simply ask them to stay away from the victim.

6. Report the incident

If you witness an act of bullying, it’s your moral duty to report the incident. Virtually every U.S. school has some kind of anti-bullying program in place.

Report the incident to the concerned administrator and share your video or written account.

7. Safeguard your personal details

Never share your passwords with anyone. This rule applies to your academic accounts as well as your personal accounts. Also, avoid sharing your personal details online. This can reduce your chances of being targeted or victimized by a vindictive bully.

Bullying prevention – What measures can you take to prevent bullying?

Your general behavior on campus can go a long way in preventing bullying. Here are some simple, yet highly effective preventive measures:

  1. Be inclusive. Make sure you’re welcoming to all in both academic and social groups.
  1. A 2019 survey conducted by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that these demographics are more vulnerable to bullying than others:
  • Those with special health needs
  • Those from the LGBTQI+ community
  • People from a different country or race
  • Less popular students
  • Students that exhibit physical or other outward differences, such as wearing glasses or dressing in a way that’s not considered “cool”

If you sense that someone is about to be bullied, simply walking close by or sitting next to them can throw off the bully.

  1. Find out about any anti-bullying programs at your school, and be an active participant.
  1. Exhibit respectful social behavior towards your fellow students. Your kindness, empathy, and respect can rub off onto others and create a healthier environment for all students.
  1. Know the common signs of being bullied:
  • Mystery injuries
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Being ill or feigning sickness on a frequent basis
  • Decline in grades
  • Damaged clothing, loss of, or damage to belongings
  • A sudden change in eating patterns. Watch out for both under and over eating. The stress and trauma induced by bullying often lead to such dietary changes.
  • Avoiding social interaction
  • Exhibiting signs of low self-esteem or depression
  • Self-harm and talk of suicide

Individuals who experience bullying often attempt to conceal their trauma. They may not be too forthcoming when approached. If the victim seems reluctant, it’s advisable not to press them too hard. Simply express your support and let them open up to you in their own time. Make sure, however, to take the matter to a school counselor or administrator. Their position, maturity, and experience put them in a better position to help the victim and put a stop to the bullying.

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