Apologies from a Bullying Bystander
I Wish I'd Had the Courage
When I was in the 2nd grade, one of my classmates was a girl I'll call Marie. She was unwashed, wore ill-fitting clothes, and her hair was tangled. I know now she was likely neglected (or at the very least poor) at home. We were not friends, but I didn't dislike her. We were both shy and never talked.
One day, our class sat in a circle for a lesson. Our teacher left the room, and we were waiting for her to come back when someone noticed that Marie had a huge smudge on her face. That student whispered it to another and before long, everyone knew. A few pointed; many laughed. I was sad for her. I remember thinking several times that I should get up, get a tissue and help her. Instead I sat silent, frozen to my chair.
I wish I'd had the courage to do something for her. Anything. I've often thought of that day with regret. On this page, I will share with you my other regrets as apologies for my lack of courage. I will also share a technique to stop bullying I wish I'd had growing up. My hope is that parents will talk to their children about helping one another against bullies and that children will choose to be allies instead of bystanders.
The Bystander Effect
The bystander effect, according to Psychology Today, "occurs when the presence of others hinders an individual from intervening in an emergency situation." When we see someone being hurt in some way, two things happen:
- We hope that someone else will do something, so we don't do anything ourselves.
- We base our response on that of others, looking to those around us to decide how to handle the situation.
The combination of these two reactions amplifies both, and the more bystanders there are, the less likely it is that anyone will do anything to help the victim. Oddly enough, if there is one person or just a few people observing a situation, they are more likely to make the choice to be an ally.
Many resources talk about bullying. Yet so few take the next step to provide real actions to be taken. is an excellent resource for adults to teach children skills to stop bullying. Also, because adults frequently don't know the best ways to be allies to young people, this book provides recommendations for them as well. I highly recommend it. The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander: From Preschool to High School--How Parents and Teachers Can Help Break the Cycle
Break the Chain
Stop Bullying Video Challenge
A couple of years ago, StopBullying.gov issued a challenge:
"Kids witness bullying every day. Tell us how you can be more than a bystander and help kids who are involved in bullying."
The videos on this page are the top responses to the challenge. The first video "Break the Chain" is the Grand Prize Winner. The next two earned Honorable Mentions. The remaining four were also recognized on the site. All seven of the videos are excellent!
Cyberslammed - One of the Best Books I've Seen About Stopping Bullying
This book outlines the 4 ways to stop cyberbullying with up-to-date tactics, techniques and resources. The authors knows their stuff and better yet, explain it clearly with examples, tried resources, and plenty of ways parents can really use to help prevent and stop cyberbullying from happening. I have heard them speak, used their information in trainings for parents, and love this book! It is a practical manual for parents in helping their children, and I recommend it to anyone concerned about cyberbullying.
I Wish I'd Reached Out
In my middle school, my grade had four boys and six girls (including me). One day, one of the girls wrote me a note, asking if I wanted to be the girlfriend of a boy in our class I'll call Mike. I'm not sure which of us was more of an outcast. He was taller than average and stoop-shouldered. He wasn't the best reader so he had been labeled stupid, which I'm sure he wasn't.
I didn't want to be Mike's girlfriend, but in that moment, I looked at him differently. I thought, he's a nice guy. He's not bad looking. Why not? I don't remember exactly what I wrote back, but to my horror, the mean girl took the note and passed it to Mike. He was horrified by the note and wrote back that he did not want to be my boyfriend. He knew I was a target too. Bullying by exclusion suited him much better than the verbal abuse I received.
Long story short... The teacher caught us with the note, in which the mean girl had written some four-letter words. We all got in trouble. What if I had reached out to Mike? Been nice to him? Maybe he would have been nice back and instead of both being lone victims, we could have each had a friend. We'll never know because in my desperate attempts to be liked, I avoided him as much as the classmates who bullied us.
I Wish I'd Known What to Say
In high school, I had a boyfriend I'll call Bill. He was hilarious, quirky, and fun. I felt lucky to have him, in part because we were more friends than anything. There was no pressure... We held hands rarely, didn't dance many slow dances, and never kissed. Not that I didn't want to do those things, but I was nervous and was sure he was too. In every other way, we were completely comfortable with each other and hung out all the time. At the time, it was enough for me.
I was vaguely aware that some of the guys in school teased him and called him gay, but I never paid attention. Back then, I didn't know anyone who was gay, and it never occurred to me that he might be. He was my boyfriend after all.
One night, we were at his house. It was quiet and Bill asked, "Do you think I'm gay?" I thought he was talking about the way the guys teased him. I thought he was looking for reassurance. I told him, "No way. You're my boyfriend." Did I really think that was what he wanted to hear or was it what I wanted to believe? I was naïve and I wish I had been ready at 16 to be the friend he needed me to be, but I froze. I heard much later that he came out of the closet in college. I was really proud of and happy for him, but I never got the chance to tell him.
Who Were You?
When you were growing up, what role did you play in most situations?
I Wish I'd Been Bolder
My high school had a special day during Homecoming called Color Day. Each grade had their designated color and we could not wait until the day when we were Seniors and could decorate the whole school red. My senior year, Color Day was filled with spirit and fun. We were rambunctious and ran the halls. Somehow, in the afternoon, a mob of us ended up in the cafeteria.
A sophomore girl happened by in her green colors. Before anyone knew what was happening, a group from my class had grabbed her in the hallway, dragged her into the cafeteria, and surrounded her. They taunted her and one of the group picked her up and dumped her headfirst into an empty garbage can. The group yelled at her and hit her legs when they swung wildly in the air. She was screaming, terrified screams, calling for help.
My mind was shrieking for it to stop, but I just stood there on the outskirts of the group, and did nothing. To this day, I regret the fear she felt and I wish so much that I had helped her.
I Wish I'd Helped Myself
In middle school, the group of girls in my class began to tell jokes about a girl they said went to another school. They made fun of the clothes she wore and talked about the stupid things she had done. They would all laugh and catch each others' eyes and laugh some more. I was happy that they were letting me in on the jokes and I laughed along with them even though I didn't know who she was.
We laughed at her for weeks.
One day, we were laughing at what the girl had done that morning, and as the others walked away, a 7th grader who happened to be standing nearby pulled me aside and said, "You know you're the one they're laughing at, right?" I didn't know that. I had been laughing for weeks... At myself. A bystander to my own victimization.
Have you ever been a bystander in a situation where you wish you could go back and be an ally?
Name it, Claim it, Stop it, & Walk away
A Simple Skills to Stop Bullying - And Become an Ally
I learned Name it, Claim it, Stop it, and Walk Away at a conference from a group of students who were actively involved with their high school's Gay Straight Alliance (GSA). Their advisor had in turn learned it from an organization called the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN, pronounced like glisten). The good people at GLSEN share this resource widely to teach young people how to become an ally when bullying takes place. The steps are simple and can be used in almost any bullying situation.
The students I work with tell me that it takes time, but it gets more and more comfortable to use as they practice. An excellent resource from the original developers, Kevin Berrill and Daryl Cummings-Wilson, can be found below.
- Name it: Call the bullying behavior what it is.
- Claim it: Tell (briefly) how you feel when it happens.
- Stop it: Tell the bully or bullies to stop doing it.
- Walk Away: Take themselves and the person being bullied and walk away from the situation. (GLSEN adds this step to remind students that they don't have to debate the issue with the bullies.)
I Hope This Helps Someone
If you have gotten anything from reading my stories, I recommend the book, . It is written by writers of young adult books about their stories from a variety of perspectives - bully, target, bystander, ally. So many people are touched by bullying and it can help to know that there are others out there who have had similar experiences and gone on to live fulfilling lives despite - and sometimes because of - those defining moments. Dear Bully: Seventy Authors Tell Their Stories
I work with young people now. I teach teens how to teach anti-bullying skills to younger children. I tell them these stories so they know what not to do.
I wish I had done so many things differently growing up. I felt others' pain in bullying situations, but I was a bystander tried and true. I hope that in sharing these stories, readers will agree that standing by and watching these things happen is as wrong as the act of bullying itself. And I hope that some of the resources on this page are useful to someone.