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When it comes to bullying, Upstanders can help


Have you heard any of these common responses from adults regrading bullying situations? “Words will never hurt you.” “Bullying makes kids tougher.” “Bullied kids need to learn to deal with bullying on their own.”

Bullying is not acceptable and should never be part of a child’s social interactions. This mean spirited behavior continues to be an ongoing serious issue and requires the attention of parents, educators, school administrators, health care providers, policy makers, families, and others concerned with the care of children.

As prevention practitioners for NOVA, Bucks County’s comprehensive Victim Service Agency, we see firsthand the social struggles and emotional impact on children. defines bullying as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated or has the potential to be repeated, over time.”

Research indicates occurrences of bullying can cause emotional scars, increase anxiety, fear, uncertainty, lower self-esteem and self-worth, and effect academic performance. The cost of this hurtful, intentional behavior is measurable for both victims and bystanders.

According to a 2019 study by the National Center for Educational Statistics, one out of five students report being the victim of bullying. In addition, to the direct toll on bullied students, there may be negative impact on those who witness the bullying. Frequently referred to as the bystander effect, a group observes the bullying but no one responds in a helpful way. While some students have the confidence and skills to stop the bullying, others do not. Many watch to see if someone else will step forward. Others try to “fit in” to avoid being a subsequent victim of aggressive behaviors. We want to encourage all students to help in a positive way by providing skills to handle situations where their classmates are “picked on,” made fun of, or ostracized. reports a meta-analysis of school-based bystander intervention behavior finds when bystanders safely intervene and defend the victim of bullying, the bullying stops within 10 seconds more than half the time. That is the value of positive bystander support. We ask parents and educators to empower bystanders to become Upstanders and teach appropriate ways to respond.

NOVA has a strong foundation in providing skills and strategies for building a school climate of Upstander support. In our school-based programs, students learn safe, proactive strategies. This could mean talking to the bully, reporting the event, or helping the victim after the fact. The Bully Project reports “In many ways, (Upstander) is another word for being socially responsible.”

How can parents help their children explore feelings and actions in handling bullying? Be an Upstander in their lives. Talk about the value of empathy, being kind, and positive actions in uncomfortable situations. Be the trusted adult they can turn to get help. Empower them to help their peers.

Mr. Rodgers said it best, “When I was a boy, I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me “look for the helpers, you will always find people who are helping.” Thank you for being helpers.

Mary Worthington of Solebury is director of Prevention Education and Training for NOVA (Network of Victim Assistance).