In Parents, Parents' Coaching, Teens, The Bystander

Bullying Hurts Everyone — Including the Bullying Witness

Bullying Hurts Everyone -- Including the Witness

Bullying Hurts the Bully, Bullied, and Bullying Witness

Bullying is painful to all involved: it traumatizes the victim; it alienates the perpetrator; and it unsettles the witness. Bullying is epidemic and it affects us all. It is a problem all of need to address even if our child is not actively involved in a bullying situation or confrontation as victim or perpetrator. The seriousness, ubiquity, and compelling motivation to do something about bullying is at its core a commitment to helping people.

Bullying Hurts: Far From Isolated Incidents

Far from being an isolated handful of incidents, a rare occurrence, or an unfortunate anomaly, according to a recent study by the Family and Work Institute. The National Center for Education Statistics found that 70 percent of students play some kind of role in bullying, including witnesses, while “kids are around to see bullying 85 percent of the time,” according to the “What to Teach Kids About Bullying” web page.

“The greatest opportunity to fix bullying or harassment would be with the bystanders. There are many more bystanders than there are bullies and victims.”– Jerry Misik

Bullying Hurts: Cause for Caution for Bystander of Bullying

The seriousness of the act of bullying and the need to take action about bullying essential. Bullying is an epidemic and the effects of bullying are traumatic. It is a problem for everyone involved in an incident, including those who are engaged passively as a bystander. Even if your child is not actively involved in a bullying situation as the aggressor or victim in an abusive confrontation, he or she may very well be face long-term trauma by witnessing bullying.

Effects on Bullying Witness Where Bullying Hurts:

How does bullying hurt the witness? In a number of pernicious, subtle and not so subtle ways. Bystanders are often forced to feel emotions that run the gamut from fear that they might be next, anger that the abuse is occurring, helplessness that they could do nothing to stop the bullying, and guilt or sadness about being unable to stop the bullying . Most incidents of bullying occur in and around school. This can lead the child, as well as the victim, to have a negative association to school. He may come to fear certain parts of school environment where the bullying occurs. Long term effects may lead some victims and/or witnesses of bullying to truancy, dropping out, or not attending college — the ramifications and reverberations of this running throughout the victim’s life.

The stressors on witnesses of bullying have been well documented — among them, the sensations in bystanders of anxiety, depression, guilt, or helplessness. These effects harmful in and of themselves, and witnessing the bullying may have lasting effects on the bystander. Kids learn best when they feel secure (as do we all), then you can well imagine some of the problems that come with witnessing bullying. If much of bullying happens within the context of a traditional educational environment, and we’re talking about the cafeteria, locker room, recess space, bathroom, school bus, halls, and schoolyard, then children will take these negative experiences and it will color and affect their learning experience. “Bullying may interfere with children who witness it acquiring a sense of safety and affiliation with others, both of which are crucial human needs,” According to a study by Educator JoLynn Carned and Professor of Counselor Education Richard Hazler (“Bullies and Bystanders/ Penn State College of Education, 2011). Witnessing cruelty and tension-infused situations make individuals tense. Carnel and Hazler go on to say that bullying is far from being only in the mind; that there are ramifications beyond damaged social interactions and scarred self-esteem. “Bullying can also cause people who witness it to demonstrate physical stress symptoms of increased heart rate and perspiration as well as high levels of self-reported trauma even years after bullying events.”

How a Bullying Witness Affects the Bullying Dynamic

If one of the dynamics of the bullying situation is that the offenders seek the (supposed) thrill of the power, control, or a sort of twisted “prestige” that feeds acts of aggression, then bystanders who witness the bullying may, inadvertently, feed into the vicious cycle — and the cycle of viciousness . Sadly, children who witness bullying may become desensitized to abuse, or worse, attempt to imitate the power of bullies. Think “Lord of the Flies” on steroids. Bullying is not something to be taken lightly. It must be addressed, and the children helped to overcome the episode of abuse.

How to Protect the Bullying Witness as Bullying Hurts

As a parent or caregiver, there are proactive steps you can take to help your young person deal with witnessing bullying. Dr. Amanda Nickerson and Jenny Paradise advise having this talk early. “Children who defend their peers that are bullied are more likely to describe having an open, supportive relationship.” Be clear, precise — explain the line between games, teasing, and bullying. Help inculcate values in a real and tangible way that a child can understand. “Give explicit advice—instead of simply saying, ‘be nice.’”. Teach him about empathy and inclusiveness so that he’ll recognize an unsafe physical or emotional situation. Teach her how to be an advocate and ally for the victim. Children need to be taught that as witness it is all right to confide in a “trusted adult, say something to the bully (if she feels safe doing so), band together with a group of others to say it is not OK,” (6). Another thing you can do is help the child learn empathy and employ social skills to help end the victims isolation (kids who are perceived to be friendless are more likely to be targeted). “When friends help out, 57 percent of the time bullying stops in 10 seconds (Hawkins, Pepler, and Craig, Social Development, 2001).

Bullying Hurts : Pain Through Pixels

Cyber bullying is any form of social or verbal humiliation or harassment committed online, help kids learn the skills to deal with online threats in an effective manner. Don’t ignore cyber bullying: Help kids gain the skills to bring it to the attention an adult in authority, whether through online mediation, or in the home or school.

Helping the Bullying Witness Return to a Feeling of Safety

If your child has been a bystander to bullying, help him access his emotions, and take concrete steps to ensure that he feels safe returning to the environment where the aggression occurred, which is more than likely school, or a school related activity.

Realize that bullying episodes are very difficult for your child to go through, even as a witness, but preparation can help implement positive solutions to bullying.

When you’re spending time with your kid, work to engender a sense of empathy and compassion. And when you’re reading, watching T.V or film, listening to music, or witnessing someone in a painful bullying situation in real life, help your child get in touch with not only her feelings, but help him imagine how the victim feels.
Help the child envision compromises in social interactions and non-violent solutions to conflict: learn and practice mediation skills (it’s never too early!)

Help the child communicate to others, and to articulate values of inclusiveness, kindness, and acceptance. Be firm in your stance that bullying is not acceptable behavior.

Encourage your child to be able to respect her own wisdom and knowledge and respond to what she feels is wrong, but intervening (with words only) if the situation feels safe. And always enlist the help of a trusted adult to help end a bullying situation.

Model the behavior that you want your child to exhibit. Demonstrate by action as well as by adage. You can also help by teaching your child social skills, encouraging him to enjoy a wide array of friends: of different races, economic levels, physical ability, and diverse orientation in lifestyles. Children learn tolerance and acceptance are taught, modeled, and encouraged. Let your child know that bullying, being bullied, and being a bystander are all difficult positions, and that you are there for him/her and that there is an inherent right of peace and dignity that it is everyone’s right to enjoy.

Spread the word and help end the suffering of the bullying witness Now! 

Remember that bullying hurts everyone from the bully, the bullying victim to the bystander!

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