“Girls can be mean,” said Jennifer Lawrence. “A popular girl once gave me invitations to hand out to her birthday party – a party I wasn’t invited to.”
“I grew up in Tennessee,” agreed Justin Timberlake. “If you didn’t play football, you were a sissy. I got slurs all the time because I was in music and art.”
“Some of the girls in my school were big and tough. I was scrawny and short,” admitted Miley Cyrus. “They shoved me in the school bathroom where I was trapped. I banged on the door until my fists hurt. Nobody came. I waited for someone to rescue me. I wondered how my life got so messed up.”
Rather than giving the past the power to control them, each one of them carved out a new course. As artists and anti-bullying activists, they encourage others, particularly young people, to speak out against bullying.
Memories of bullying are often internalized and become part of the tape many victims play in their heads. Without a means of defense to protect themselves, those who have been bullied often experience depression, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, and fear. Many children who are bullied carry those unresolved issues with them into adulthood.
Like Jennifer and Miley, I did not have skills to protect myself from bullying. “Turn the other cheek” and “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” were ingrained into my character. When I was ridiculed and bullied by others – particularly by those I most admired – I sank into a world of silence. I withdrew from the world.
I wanted to run away to a place where I could reinvent myself after I graduated from high school. I saved money and enrolled at a college far from home. However, the voices of the bullies continued to echo within me. Although I was president of the student government association and nominated for many campus leadership awards, I was drowning in depression.
Dr. Dan Owleus, founder of the Owleus Bullying Prevention Program and author of Bullying at School: What We Know and What We Can Do, explains, “Bullying poisons the educational environment and affects the learning of every child.” Approximately one out of every four students reports being bullied at school (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2015). Sixty-four percent of the children who were bullied in schools did not report it (National Center for Educational Evaluation and Regional Assistance, 2010).
Fortunately, schools and organizations with anti-bullying prevention programs often report a 20-25% decrease in bullying behaviors. More than half of the bullying situations involving youth stop when a peer intervenes on behalf of the individual being bullied.
Although programs designed to address bullying often promote positive character values, we must do more than enforce consequences after bullying has already occurred. We must teach kids how to take good care of themselves before they feel threatened by a bully.
- Act with Confidence. Bullies target people they believe are weak. Act as if your self-confidence is strong. Be proud of who you are. Walk with your head up.
- Take Action. Bullies make unkind remarks in front of an audience to boost their own lack of confidence. If a bully says something unkind to you, ignore it – but don’t continue to suffer in silence. If the bully persists, loudly shout their name, name the behavior, and tell them to stop. Firmly say, “Joseph, stop kicking me!” Shouting draws negative and unwanted attention to the bully. Let the bully know through your behavior he or she has no power over you.
- Set Appropriate Boundaries. Sometimes if you ignore repeated bullying, it escalates. Bullies are cowards. Silent victims are their favorite targets. Say in a strong, assertive voice, “Stop!” and leave the situation. Take charge of your space.
- Stay Calm. Bullies often want you to argue or fight with them. Take a breath. Refuse to react with anger; a bully hopes you’ll respond in a way that gives him or her an invitation to engage in combat.
- Ask for Help. It takes courage to inform an adult if you’re being bullied. Bullies want you to believe you’re a coward if you report their behavior to an adult. If an adult doesn’t listen or do something to stop the bullying, tell another adult until you find someone that will help you. Ask to be moved to a different class. Tell your parent or guardian. Contact the principal. Write your teacher a note and explain the situation. Tell the bus driver and sit at the front of the bus.
- Talk to Someone. Make an appointment with your school counselor or a trusted adult. Explore ways you can strengthen your confidence and communication skills. Join a support group. Build a support system. Create a plan with a caring adult about how to work through a situation involving a bully.
- Remember What’s True. If a bully calls you hurtful names, be direct and say, “No, I’m not” or “I don’t know where you get your information, but it’s wrong.” Remind yourself: If it sounds or feels unkind, it’s not true. It’s not important what a bully thinks about you – what matters is what YOU think about you.
- Stay with the Crowd. Don’t be caught in situations where you are by yourself, especially if you are being bullied by someone. Follow others into the restroom if you need to use it. Walk with others in the halls between classes.
- Focus on Positive Thoughts. Don’t let negative self-talk get you down. Create positive affirmations (Use these tips to get you started). Find inspiring quotes or words of encouragement to remember and repeat to yourself.
- Get Informed. Learn more about bullying and how to deal with it from information offered on websites such as StopBullying.gov, Kids Against Bullying, StompOutBullying.org, and Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center. Consider these books and check out the previews of Positive: A Memoir by Paige Rawl, Blubber by Judy Blume, or Bystander by James Preller.
One day when I was in college, I saw a sign on a bulletin board about the counseling center on campus. I called and made an appointment with a counselor. I described my traumatizing experiences with bullies.
“Why me?” I asked him. “Why did the bullies single me out?”
The counselor answered, “Because you took it.”
He was right. I believed what the bullies said was true. I believed everyone hated me. I believed I was worthless. It was up to me to change my thoughts and my beliefs about myself so I could be strong enough to withstand bullying.
When you get sick of tired of being sick and tired, you change your behavior. When I changed my behavior and refused to be threatened and controlled by bullies, the harassment stopped.
I once heard a wise seventh grader say, “Ignore the people who talk behind your back. That’s where they belong: Behind you.” When children (and adults) set strong personal boundaries and refuse to allow others to define who they are, they discover confidence. Remember that your future is always ahead of you; never behind you.
The #1 deterrent to stop bullying is when a PEER has the courage to speak up on behalf of another student who is being bullied. Children and teens often say nothing when they see bullying because they fear bullies will turn their hurtful actions towards them. It’s time to equip youth with skills to take care of themselves and one another:
- Shout “Stop it!” when you see someone being bullied at school.
- Report bullying behaviors to a Mentor or Trusted Adult.
- Empower youth with communication and conflict resolution skills.
- Practice communication skills through role-play bullying scenarios and discuss positive strategies.
- Equip youth with peer leadership skills. Invite them to identify ways they can address bullying in their schools and communities.
- Advocate for youth by encouraging school staff and administrators to address bullying in schools.
- Arrange community discussions about bullying. Discuss specific ways adults can collaboratively plan ways to protect all students.
These tips from StopBullying.gov describe specific ways children, teens, and adults can respond to bullying. They also share ways coaches, teachers, parents, school staff, organization volunteers, and students can reduce bullying in their communities.
Tenzin Gyatso, the Dalai Lama, said, “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”
Children learn to be kind by watching and modeling the behavior of adults. Every day is an opportunity to be kind and, through each act of kindness, we are one step closer to ending bullying for good.
What can you do if someone bullies you? What can you do if you see someone bully another person?
Free yourself from negative, self-defeating thoughts with suggestions from Replace Old Tapes with New Messages.
Replace negative thoughts with positive affirmation. Discover how to Put the Positive in Your Affirmation.
Are you ready to make a change in your life? Begin with these tips from What You Must Let Go to Move Forward.
Find 8 Ways to Feel Positive (Even When Everything Seems Wrong).
Get inspired with wonderful words from 11 Inspiring Quotes When You Need Encouragement.