Do You Know How to Stand Up to a Bully?

Do You Know How to Stand Up to a Bully?

This week marks the National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence – an apt time to talk about how to treat each other with RESPECT (a key school value) and to reflect on how well we show character in our interactions with others.

We spend a lot of time defining bullying with young people, and helping them understand what this means and the possible impact of their actions when they make another person feel unwanted and unvalued.

Schools have a key role to play in the fight against bullying – although as we like to make our students aware, bullying is not just something that you MAY encounter as a student at school – bullying is something you will likely encounter your whole life – even if it is not directed at you.

Workplace bullying is a real thing – and you may one day need to know how to speak up for a colleague or how to report a boss or colleague who is treating you inappropriately.

You may also find that in a world in which more and more interaction is taking place online, comments and posts that you make on a variety of social media sites will generate negative commentary or ridicule.  You may even have been guilty of this kind of bullying yourself without realising it.  I am a Twitter user which I recognise is not a social media tool many of the young people I work with will use, but if you are a celebrity or a politician, handling bullying comments on this platform is a daily occurrence.  I really wonder why people feel comments they would never say to a person on the street, are ok to say to a high profile person online?  Perhaps the distance and the de-personalisation of these accounts contributes to the ease in which some become “keyboard warriors”.

So one day – perhaps in our school years and perhaps later in life, we are all going to see something that makes us uncomfortable. And that discomfort can make us feel disempowered.

It’s easy to recognise the need to stand up for someone who is being mistreated – but harder to know how to do so. Standing up to someone already angry or “on a roll” so to speak can be confronting – and you might actually put yourself in danger or escalate the situation, especially if the bullying is physical, and if there are many involved.  Much like what we get taught in our First Aid Courses, danger should be the first thing you look for.  It is no good interceding on a situation, and then simply becoming a target yourself.

Instead, a valuable thing we do at St Margaret’s Berwick Grammar is to teach young people a variety of ways to assist someone in need.  Yes, sometimes this might be by directly confronting a bully, but other times a more subtle approach may be needed.

These are the kinds of things we directly teach student leaders and peer mentors – but are skills that are useful at any age and for any person – which is why they were discussed at our most recent assembly.

You can still help someone by:

  • Distracting a bully – send them off somewhere else, tell them there is a free coffee waiting for them, or that a teacher or boss or co-worker is looking for them. This gives the victim a chance to escape the situation and take stock.  You might talk to them about how often this occurs and if they need to seek help.  Sometimes listening, and giving them the chance to talk is the best support possible.
  • Similarly you can extract the victim by suggesting someone needs them elsewhere. Gently redirect them somewhere and if possible, go with them, affording you the same opportunity to talk that you might have had by redirecting the bully.
  • If you are going to directly challenge a behaviour – you can do so gently should you wish to. A simple quiet “hey, we don’t do that here” can be very powerful, and appeals to a sense of belonging.  You can also quietly and powerfully insist that the victim is ok, and a friend.  A quick arm around his or her shoulder lets them know they are not alone, and lets the bully know this too.
  • A really special thing to do is to be on the lookout for someone on their own. We all want to connect and belong – in the schoolyard, in the workplace, at social gatherings and so on. Excluding someone can be a form of bullying – and it certainly makes someone feel unwelcome.  You always have the power to change that by inviting someone into a game or to sit and eat with you or by asking them a question and starting a conversation.
  • If you try to help and can’t – it’s always important to recognise when you need to seek help. I know we often look down upon dobbing or ratting – but if someone is in danger or being abused, sometimes we need an older person or a person higher up to stop it.  This is just as true for adults as for young people.

At our Senior Schools we talk about Growing Good Men for the future, and Empowering Young Women to be their best. This doesn’t mean being without fault. As we approach the National Day of Action against Bullying and Violence, you might have even recognised a behaviour in yourself that needs addressing.  The best way to respond to that would be to address it, to stop and apologise.  It also means looking out for others and considering how to make their lives better.  Hopefully this article has suggested some tools that can help all of us be the kinds of leaders the world needs in the future.


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