Monday, June 28, 2010

Responding to the New York Times Cover Story on Bullying

If you haven't seen the excellent article that came out today,
"On-line Bullies Pull Schools Into the Fray," take a look.

More and more kids are being affected by the growing epidemic of bullying, and schools are wondering what to do. To that I say, be proactive, not reactive. We can't just respond to bullying after it happens, we have to put measures in place to prevent and decrease bullying and other acts of cruelty before BEFORE they take place. Sure, we'll never wipe out bullying completely, but we can do plenty of things to prevent and decrease it. It is possible to teach kids to be kinder, more compassionate, and less prone to doing mean things, especially when angry. But teaching these things takes time. It’s not going to happen overnight, and it’s not going to happen by addressing these issues once or twice. Helping kids learn to be kinder, more compassionate, and better able to work out conflicts and deflect bullying is like teaching any new skill – we have to start early, show them step-by-step, and provide plenty of opportunities to practice.

We also have to teach them to be upstanders, rather than bystanders when bullying or other cruel behaviors take place. Here’s an excerpt from No Kidding About Bullying that can help you help your kids be an upstanders for kids who are picked on.


Standing Up for Those Who Are Mistreated

This activity fosters kindness, compassion, respect, personal responsibility, decency by
helping kids think of ways they can support peers who are called names. It teaches them
how to be an “upstander" who chooses kind actions, particularly when others are being unkind.

Preparation. On chart paper, write: “I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”—Helen Keller

Introduction and Discussion.
Ask kids if they’ve ever chosen to be kind to someone everyone else was acting mean to. Ask if they’ve ever been an upstander for someone who was being mistreated. Discuss, acknowledging how hard this can be.

Show the Helen Keller quote and invite a student to read it. Ask: What is “something we can do” when someone’s being called names or made fun of by others? Why does it take courage to choose to be kind when others aren’t or to stick up for someone when no one else does?

Present the following scenarios and ask for volunteers to act them out. After each scenario, ask: What kind choice could you make? What would an upstander do?

• Brian gives the wrong answer to a question the teacher asks. Other kids start to snicker and make faces.
• Mindy comes to school wearing a shirt with a big stain on it. Her hair is all tangled and looks like it hasn’t been washed in awhile. A few kids hold their noses as she walks by.
• Jason has trouble reading. He stumbles over some simple words that most of the class can read with ease. Someone makes a joke about this at Jason’s expense. A few kids start to laugh.
• Jessie tends to be awkward around other kids. Sometimes she talks too loud. People find her annoying. She always ends up sitting alone at lunch.

Ask kids to list kind, caring choices that were demonstrated during the role plays. List responses on a piece of chart paper entitled, “Kind Choices We Can Make When People Are Unkind.”

Distribute the “8 Ways to Be an Upstander” handout (below) and review how to help people who are picked on. Encourage students to come up with other upstander actions to add to the handout.

Wrap-Up. Affirm students for acts of kindness, compassion, and good listening you observed during this session. Ask whether anyone would also like to acknowledge a classmate for any positive actions or attitudes.

Adapted from No Kidding About Bullying by Naomi Drew, M.A., copyright © 2010. Free Spirit Publishing Inc., Minneapolis, MN; 800-735-7323; This page may be reproduced for individual, classroom, or small group work only. For other uses, contact

8 Ways to Be an Upstander

1. Choose not to join in when people are picking on or laughing at someone.

2. Speak out against unkind words or actions.

3. Say something helpful to the person who’s being picked on or laughed at.

4. Ask people who are teasing how it would feel if they were the ones being teased.

5. Ask the person who’s being left out or picked on to join you in an activity.

6. Let an adult know what’s going on.

7. ______________________________________________________________


8. ______________________________________________________________


Think of two more things you can do to be an upstander in real life. Fill in numbers 7 and 8.
And remember, you don’t have to do any of this alone. You can ask someone else to partner
up and be an upstander with you.

Adapted from No Kidding About Bullying by Naomi Drew, M.A., copyright © 2010. Free Spirit Publishing Inc., Minneapolis, MN; 800-735-7323; This page may be reproduced for individual, classroom, or small group work only. For other uses, contact

1 comment:

  1. Great advice - the bystander effect is such an important component of the bullying dynamic. I think that kids who are watching bullying & harassment feel so powerless to do anything, when in reality they hold a LOT of power over the bully. It can also be difficult for kids to understand that doing nothing actually kinda makes them part of the problem, because it further empowers the bully's destructive behavior.