I was researching material as part of my preparing for a class at Ebert Polaris Elementary School. I found this golden nugget of advice by Michele Borba, a giant in the field of children’s education and moral development. I share much of the article with you and encourage the reader to read Borba’s article in its entirety.
Teaching Kids How to Be More Than Bystanders And Stand Up to Bullies
The sub-title of the article is How to Teach Kids to Be Active Bystanders. I confess I have a problem with it, as I have a problem with the use of the phrase ‘active bystander’ in the article. Not to be overly picky, but ‘active’ and ‘bystander’ are inherently contradictory. If you act, you are not a bystander. I suggest one cannot be an active bystander. Okay, now, getting beyond that rhetorical hurdle, Borba’s article is outstanding, a concise PhD guiding statement on the topic of intervening for the purpose of reducing bullying. It is a ‘must read’ (yeah, another ‘must read’ for responsible parents!) on the topic.
Borba asserts the following and has the data to support her assertions:
Studies show that active bystanders can do far more than just watch. In fact, student bystanders may be our last, best hope in reducing bullying. Active student bystanders can:
~ Reduce the audience that a bully craves
~ Mobilize the compassion of witnesses to step in and stop the bullying
~ Support the victim and reduce the trauma
~ Be a positive influence in curbing a bullying episode
~ Encourage other students to support a school climate of caring
~ Report a bullying incident since 85 percent of time bullying occurs an adult is not present. Students are usually the witnesses
Borba defines what she calls Six “Be a Bully B.U.S.T.E.R.” Skills:
First, Borba defines parameters for implementing these skills. Some of them are:
- You must give students permission to step in.
- You must also teach specific strategies so they can step in.
- Each strategy must be rehearsed or role-played, until kids can use it alone. (I’ve had schools have students role-play these in assemblies, make them into chart-reminders that are posted around the school, and even have students create mini-videos of each strategy to share with peers).
I particularly am impressed with the first parameter: giving students permission to step in. This is important for many reasons, but top on the list is that permission legitimizes the engagement; it gets the official seal of approval, as it were. It also makes the profound moral point that the safety and security of another person is within a moral sphere that includes YOU!
Role playing is properly given due recognition because role playing trains the mind and the body. It allows the imagination to create formats and platforms for future action. Role playing also shows the students, including future bullies, that the school is serious about bullying.
THE B. U. S. T. E. R. SKILLS
STEP ONE: Teach Students Tattling vs. Reporting
Kids must realize that safety is always the primary goal, so stress to students:
“If someone could get hurt, REPORT!
“It’s always better to be safe than sorry.”
STEP TWO: Teach What Bullying Looks and Sounds Like
Borba writes that there are three parts of bullying:
1. Bullying is a cruel or aggressive act that is done on purpose. The bully has more power (strength, status, or size) than the targeted child who cannot hold his own.
2. The hurtful bullying behavior is not an accident, but done on purpose.
3. The bully usually seems to enjoy seeing the victim in distress and rarely accepts responsibility and often says the target “deserved” the hurtful treatment.”
Borba identifies “Five types of bullying”:
Depending on the child’s age, bullying can take on difference forms including:
Physical: Punching, hitting, slamming, socking, spitting, slapping;
Verbal: Saying put downs, nasty statements, name calling, taunting, racial slurs, or hurtful comments, threatening;
Emotional: Shunning, excluding, spreading rumors or mean gossip, ruining your reputation;
Electronic or cyber-bullying: Using the Internet, cell phone, camera, text messaging, photos to say mean or embarrassing things;
Sexual: Saying or doing things that are lewd or disrespectful in a sexual way
STEP THREE: Teach “Bully BUSTER Bystander” Skills
Borba makes the notable point that not all strategies work for all kids. “The trick is,” Borba writes, “to match the techniques with what works best with the child’s temperament and comfort level and the particular situation.”
The skills include:
1. B-Befriend the Victim
2. U-Use a Distraction
The right diversion can draw peers from the scene, make them focus elsewhere, give the target a chance to get away, and may get the bully to move on.
3. S-Speak Out and Stand Up!
4. T-Tell or Text For Help
I really like this skill: use technology to work with psychology. Borba writes: “Bystanders often don’t report bullying for fear of retaliation, so make sure they know which adults will support them, and ensure confidentiality. You must give students the option of anonymous reporting. An active bystander could:”
5. E-Exit Alone or With Others
Stress that bullies love audiences. Bystanders can drain a bully’s power by reducing the group size a few ways.
6. R-Give a Reason or Offer a Remedy
Bystanders are more likely to help when told why the action is wrong or what to do. Students could:
Review why it’s wrong: “This isn’t right!” “This is mean!” “You’ll get suspended.” “You’ll hurt him.”
Offer a remedy: “Go get help!” “Let’s work this out with Coach.”
Number 6, at its foundation, proposes an exercise in moral reasoning, including moral responsibility. Being compassionate is worthless unless the emotion leads to action. Compassion without action is narcissism, moral preening and self-aggrandizement. Act, don’t feel.
My concluding thought: a person who sees evil and does nothing is morally worthless.
Please read the entire article by Michele Borba. It is well worth the time of a responsible parent and school employee. Or anyone else, for that matter, who is concerned about decency and reducing suffering and abuse.