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Becoming an Upstander

Becoming an Upstander

Becoming an upstander is about moving from silence to action. Bystanders contribute to the problem. Upstanders stop the problem. Research shows that others speaking out or taking action stops bullying behavior over half the time within seconds!

There are different types of bystanders. Which one are you?

Some participate in starting the bullying

Example: At recess, Billy takes a hat away from a younger child and throws it to Tom. This begins a game of keep away that continues (even though this child is clearly upset) until Tom throws the younger child's hat over the fence.

Some laugh or give attention to the bullying thereby encouraging it

Example: Samantha makes a hurtful comment about Sarah's lunch that she brought from home. Samantha's friends all join in the laughter which only ensures this bullying behavior will occur again.

Some join in the bullying once is started

Example: Jacob accidentally drops his heavy binder in the hallway between classes. Robby takes advantage of the situation and kicks the binder, shuffling his feet through the papers and spreading them across the crowed hallway. His friends join in doing the same. Soon Jacob's papers are torn and scattered across a large area.

Some are silent

This silence is most often misinterpreted by the bully as support for the bullying and interpreted by the victim as betrayal and support for the bully.

Example: Elle and Emily ride the same bus to school. They are classmates. Elle is silent on the bus when Emily is taunted by older children because of her old clothes and the rundown house she lives in.

Progression from inaction to action

It takes courage to be an upstander. Upstanders are kids who do something that prevents or reduces the bullying they see, or comes to the aid of another child who is being bullied by showing them kindness. Moving from being a bystander to becoming an upstander may not happen overnight. It may start with becoming more aware of the bullying behavior and how it is affecting the lives of the victims. Upstanders begin to feel a sense of anger about the injustice they are witnessing. Upstanders are able to see the pain the victim experiences and take action.

How to become an upstander

Take action by telling the bully to stop

Example: Aysha turns the corner of the hallway where her locker is and sees a group of kids is making fun of Melissa, who has cerebral palsy. On some days, Aysha just ignores the bullying. She does not know Melissa very well, but it makes her mad. These kids are walking and moving with jerking motions like Melissa and then laughing. They don't seem to understand or care that Melissa has feelings just like they have. Today Aysha takes action. She tells the group "Knock it off, how would any of you feel if you were being bullied like this?" Aysha stands next to Melissa until they leave.

Take action by getting others to stand up with them to the bully

Example: Jay is frustrated with one of the kids in his class, Greg, who likes to pick on some of the unpopular kids. Greg's actions are subtle, but he gets other kids to laugh at his behavior, which almost always is making fun of someone else. Greg decided weeks ago to ignore or be silent when he sees this happen. But there are too many others who feed into Greg's antics. At lunch when another friend starts talking about how funny Greg is, Jay says, "I notice that Greg likes to put down and embarrass others. I don't think that's funny. When other people laugh, that only encourages his hurtful behavior. I stopped laughing. When people laugh along, they are being bullies also."

Take action by helping the victim

Example: Karli is friends with Sarah. Sarah gets teased because of her weight. When some of the boys in their middle school walk past Sarah, they make animal snorting sounds like a pig or cow. Karli knows that many people struggle with weight issues. She knows how frustrating and hard it can be to lose weight. Karli decides to spend more time with Sarah in study hall and in the hallway. When she hears the animal noises directed at her friend, Karli tells Sarah, "I am sorry they do that to you. You don't deserve it. They are just bullies."

Take action by shifting the focus and redirecting the bully away from the victim

Example: Recess is supposed to be fun. But Caitlin has been noticing that her group of friends likes to target the kids who are playing alone. From the playground duty teacher's viewpoint, they look like they are having fun. Caitlin knows they are taunting the other child by inviting her to play games where they can "ditch" him/her and spend the rest of recess avoiding him/her. At recess when the group is deciding who to play poison with, Caitlin speaks up saying, "I think we should play a game that is fair for everyone. I don't think it is fun to be the one that everyone is ditching all recess. Let's play something else."

Take action by telling an adult who can help

Example: Joann has been troubled by her friends sending hurtful text messages to her eighth grade friends. She likes her group of popular friends, but she does not like the mean things they do online to other kids. She decides to send an anonymous text message through a new program her school started that allows kids to report bullying. 

Qualities of an upstander

  • Courageous - Telling a friend who is bullying to stop is hard. They may be mad at you. But at least you won't feel guilt for being silent and allowing the bullying to continue. And you will be doing your friend a huge favor in the end by helping them stop really hurtful behavior.
  • Action-oriented - Doing something that does not support the bullying behavior can be a really small intervention with big results! Three words - "That is bullying" - can cause others to recognize the problem.
  • Assertive - Telling a friend how their behavior makes you feel and how it affects others requires being able to use your voice.
  • Compassionate - Upstanders have the gift of compassion. They recognize when someone is hurt and take steps to help.
  • Leader - Upstanders are leaders in their social group, helping others to recognize ways to get along and be supportive to others.
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