3 Things You’re Not Being Told About Bullying (And How To Stop It)

I was going to write a long post about bullying.  It would have referenced the school in Ohio where four teens have killed themselves (at least three directly from bullying) and I would have discussed the marvelous memoir of a bullied childhood from the Single Dad Laughing blog.  I would have made observations about the increasing hold bullying has on the national media – note these pieces in People magazine from their front cover.

Then I realised that none of those stories were helping to fix anything.  None of the parent groups calling for the heads of the school administrators were offering solutions.  It’s easy to be angry about bullying and bullies.  There’s a clear villain and clear victim in the story.  But if you’re just getting angry, how are you helping?

And so the heading of my post changed from “The Bullying Story” to “3 Things You’re Not Being Told About Bullying (And How To Stop It)”.  This is aimed at schools, but applies equally to anywhere bullying occurs (i.e. everywhere).

1. Most People Ignore It

The most common response when observing bullying is to walk away.  That is the bystander’s modus operandi.  This is what bullies rely on – it is the secret to their success.  Unfortunately the vast majority of us fit into the bystander category.  When was the last time you saw bullying happen and did something about it?

2. Teachers (And Principals) Can’t Stop Bullying

If they could, they would have done it already.  Adults can step in and stop bullying happening at a given moment.  But what happens when they leave?  The bullying starts back up again.  Even if a victim of bullying reports it to their principal every day, it still won’t stop.  Adults can’t be everywhere.  However, the student body can.  Bullying isn’t happening in a vacuum.

3. There Will Always Be Bullies

Trying to eradicate bullies is a fool’s quest.  Anyone trying to teach kids to stop bullying is living in a dream world.  This is human behaviour – we might be able to reduce it, but it’s not going anywhere.  Some programs aim to “toughen up” those being bullied.  I have no doubt that this can help.  However, if you’re getting bullied because of who you are, all the coping strategies in the world aren’t going to help.  Bullies pick on you if you’re the wrong colour, wrong size, or wrong .  They target you if you’re from the wrong country, have the wrong sexual orientation, or have the wrong look.  They’ll come after you if you have the wrong amount of money, the wrong address, or like the wrong things.  You shouldn’t have to change these things.  Period.

How To Stop It

Here is the secret recipe.

  • Step 1: Activate the bystanders.  Educate everyone in the building that to stop bullying they all need to choose action over inaction.
  • Step 2: Explain the action-based options.
    1. Tell an adult (only useful when the specific incident needs to be stopped immediately – e.g. fist fight)
    2. Tell the bully to stop (this can be scary, so maybe take a friend)
    3. Help the person being bullied (being bullied is a lonely experience so ask them if they want to hang out, ask how you can help, or take them away from the situation)
  • Step 3: Repeat

Get buy-in from the student body and your school will no longer have bullying.  I promise.  And when CNN (or Oprah) comes knocking on your door to ask how you did it, please remember to point them my way.

What are your thoughts?  Tell me about your bully experiences.

Side Note: I’ve seen people say things to the effect of “kids are mean” in response to the recent stories of bullying.  Kids aren’t mean.  Kids learn from watching adults.  So if you want to know how they’re learning to ignore injustices or how to be aggressive, hateful, and violent do some people watching.

Second Side Note: A quote from Desmond Tutu – “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

Third Side Note: Please share this.  I don’t often ask directly, but more people need to start trying to make changes in this area instead of complaining.  And I’d really like to get on Oprah 🙂


12 Responses to 3 Things You’re Not Being Told About Bullying (And How To Stop It)

  1. Matt Crosby October 11, 2010 at 11:16 pm #

    Consider it shared Matt. As someone who was told the “Just ignore them and they’ll stop” excuse for a long time throughout childhood, I’m glad to see some media attention, and I know there are people, like yourself, aiming at stopping the madness. Keep up the great work – hope I can convince a teacher to have you to TN sometime soon!

    • Matt October 12, 2010 at 7:16 pm #

      Thanks Matt – glad you’re reading as always.

  2. Erik Smith October 13, 2010 at 9:13 pm #

    Great post Matt!

    In the light of recent events I have read a lot of articles on the solution to bullies. Your steps to a solution are the only ones that I feel could make a real difference.

    Empowering youth is the only way to reducing the amount of bullies among them. I agree that they learn behaviors from adults that lead to bullying it can also be said that they learn from adults the action of ignoring the problem.

    I will be doing a group session with the youth I work with on this soon.

    Thanks again Matt!


    • Matt October 13, 2010 at 10:23 pm #

      Thanks Erik – please come back to the comments to let us know how the session goes.

  3. Jessi Garrison October 13, 2010 at 9:18 pm #

    Matt, this post is so on point! My fellow teachers and I had this very discussion yesterday. Time and time again parents complain or blame teachers for the constant bullying that happens in school often times claiming we don’t care enough. The fact is we do care and we do our best to stop it, but like you said, we can’t be everywhere. However, a student body can! Pointing fingers and placing blame isn’t going to do much to fix the problem, but teaching students how to stand up against bullies, like your program does, will definitely bring us one step closer to the solution.

    • Matt October 13, 2010 at 10:24 pm #

      Thanks Jessi. It’s such a shame that parents are just directing their anger instead of looking for solutions. I can understand the frustration, but adding more aggression to the situation is not going to help.

  4. Sarah October 14, 2010 at 6:55 am #

    I love what you are doing and agree that the way to stop bullying is to empower kids to stand up. I am fortunate that our school district is very clear about a zero tolerance for bullying and while I’m sure it still happens, they do encourage kids in various ways to speak up and watch out for each other.

    It’s an uphill battle to convince kids they can make a difference when the majority of adults around them don’t.

    • Matt October 14, 2010 at 8:38 am #

      Sarah, I love your last sentence. Thanks for commenting.

  5. Melanie October 14, 2010 at 10:51 am #

    Hi Matt,

    I left a twitter post about bullying and how ridiculous things are getting and you asked me to leave some of my thoughts on the subject. Well I think it’s amazing that you are talking about bullying and opening people’s eyes to it. I was bullied for years but never to the extent that some of these innocent teens were. It saddens me to think that they didn’t have anyone to turn to who would care and understand, that their only option was to commit suicide. I think it’s wrong that society let’s bullies believe that they have the right to judge someone else, but in reality they do not have that right. No one does, we were all created differently for a reason and we need to start embracing our differences instead of judging and mocking them. It’s not right! How many more people do we have to lose to bullying before someone stands up and says enough? Well I’m standing up and saying that it’s enough. They teach us in school how to handle a fire but they don’t teach us how to handle a bully. People need to be educated on this topic especially now that things are getting so out of hand. These people who feel like they have no where to turn need to know that there are people out there who are willing to help and listen. The only way to help this issue is to talk about it, educate people on the topic and let those who feel alone know that there are people who care about them.

    • Matt October 14, 2010 at 11:25 am #

      Thanks a lot Melanie. Your passion shines through in your thoughts here. Keep talking about it.

  6. Dr. Michelle Anthony October 21, 2010 at 4:22 pm #

    I think that so often, adults really don’t know what to do. “Ignore it.” “Walk away.” “Tell them to stop.” We so often ask kids to do things we aren’t able to do! Or we point the finger at “bad them” who do these things, and criticize the child or the family they came from. Again, a lot of it is because we don’t really understand the how and why of what is going on, and each case seems so unique and idiosyncratic.

    I think your ideas are great ones, especially about befriending the target. Since standing up to the bully can feel quite terrifying (either b/c the bully might physically turn on us right there, or we may become their next target next week), I think empowering children to choose a kind act that includes the target is a wonderful way to help kids take a stand without worrying about putting themselves in harm’s way (which I think is a big reason why more children–and adults–don’t do more immediate actions in-the-moment).

    Which brings me to my overall point, which is that by-and-large, kids are good kids, when they are given the tools and the means and accountability to be so. So while adults cannot stop bullying, we can indeed do something about it. That is where the Four Steps in our book Little Girls Can Be Mean comes from—from the place of saying there is an active and appropriate role that parents can play in helping their child learn to navigate these rocky waters…regardless of if the child is (right now) the target, bystander, or mean one.


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