In Part One of our recent discussion of bullying, we talked about what behavior constitutes bullying, and how adults can learn to recognize it when it’s happening. Here in Part Two, we’re sharing tips and strategies for how to deal with bullying and what you can actually do to stop it.
Houston resident Aubrey Fontenot recently gave a first-rate example of one of the best ways to respond to bullying: with compassion. Fontenot’s eight-year-old son Jordon told him that he was being repeatedly bullied at school by an 11-year-old schoolmate named Tamarion. After learning that Tamarion’s family was having difficulties, Fontenot says, “I decided I wanted to talk to the boy myself, and his mom gave me permission…He said he was getting made fun of by the other kids. They said his shoes were cheap and his clothes were dirty.” In an admirable move, Fontenot took the boy shopping for some new clothes, teaching both boys, who are now friends, valuable lessons about compassion and empathy.
As Fountenot demonstrates, bullies pick on others because of some deficiency in their own lives, be it financial, emotional, mental, or physical. Bullies may be jealous, as was the case with Tamarion; or perhaps bullies are trying to hide something negative about their own lives. Remembering this is the first step towards developing the necessary compassion towards bullies (and is also an important step in cultivating compassion toward the person being bullied).
The non-profit GLSEN teamed up with Disney Junior to create the #choosekindness campaign, which is “designed to inspire kids, families, and change-makers around the country to put an end to bullying.” They’re using Disney’s new show Vampirina to discuss issues of bullying, and to encourage kids to #choosekindness.
As STOMPOut Bullying points out, it’s important to help anyone who is being bullied remember that they’re not alone and that it’s not their fault. Bullies pick on others because of their own problems, and it’s very important to help anyone who is being bullied remember not to internalize that. In her recent album Dirty Computer, Janelle Monae talks about being bullied as a kid:
I remember when you called me weird
We was in math class, third row, I was sitting by you
Right before Mr. Ammond’s class
‘Cause my mama couldn’t afford new Js
Polos, thrift store, thrift clothes that was all I knew
Do you remember?
Uh, I remember when you laughed when I cut my perm off
And you rated me a six
I was like, “Damn”
But even back then with the tears in my eyes
I always knew I was the s**t
By finding positive examples of people we admire who were once bullied, such as Janelle Monae, we can help kids realize that being bullied doesn’t make a person less wonderful or less capable of thriving.
The main takeaway is that both the bullies and the people being bullied need our compassion, as it’s difficult to be in either role. Encourage those who are being bullied to, whenever possible, respond to bullying with both internal and external kindness. Remember that bullies want to make people upset and angry, and so responding in that way is giving them what they want. StopBullying.gov offers that, if it feels possible to do so, people who are being bullied can look at their bully and calmly and clearly tell them to stop. They add that it can be a good strategy to laugh off the bullying. If speaking up feels too difficult, then they encourage people who are being bullied to walk away, without looking back, and get to a safe spot. For kids, this also means finding an adult who can help stop the bullying.
It’s also important to encourage all kids, whether they’re being bullied or not, to be kind to the kids who are being picked on. As adults we can lead by example, and can demonstrate to the kids in our lives how to be inclusive and caring for those around us. Encourage the kids you know to talk to isolated or lonely kids, to sit with them at lunch and invite them to do things. Bullying often happens to and by kids who feel alone or isolated in some way; by working to bring everyone into the fold, we can help prevent bullying.
A recent study from North Carolina State University and the University of South Carolina show how family relationships affects a young person’s ability to actively intervene in instances of bullying that they see at school or elsewhere. Seçil Gönültaş, a Ph.D. student at NC State and co-author of the paper, said that the study showed “that family is very important…The stronger a student’s reported ‘good family management,’ or positive family relationships, the more likely a student was to deem aggressive behaviors and retaliation unacceptable, and the more likely they were to intervene in either case.”
By modeling positive relationships and compassion for the kids in our lives, and working to strengthen our relationships with them, we can help kids bolster themselves against any effects of being bullied or bullying. And, at the same time, we can help them gain the confidence needed to stand up to bullies and intervene when possible.