The Bystander
Filed Under (bullying, Uncategorized)
I suppose I could have assumed that I hadn’t heard the whole story when my tween told me that a friend had been bullied at school and that my daughter had defended her.  But, to be honest, the topic of bullying has become so common these days that I’ve become a little desensitized to it.  Today’s school children have developed a bullying language, learned bullying scripts, and practiced anti-bullying strategies in such depth, that it has become part of everyday conversation.


My tween daughter and I drove home from a piano lesson having typical conversation.  There was no hint of anxiety in the air to forewarn me of the incoming drama.  As I pulled up to our house, my daughter burst forth with emphatic affirmations, “I’m a good person.  I stick up for people against bullies.  I’m a good friend.  I do what’s right.”  Her quivering tone had me wondering, is it me she’s trying to convince or herself?  Let the debriefing begin.
My daughter was blindsided by the wave of hatred (i.e. defensiveness) directed at her from said bully.  It submerged her.  The affirmations she cast out in my presence were her attempt to come back to the surface – to find a lifeboat that would rescue her and help her to understand how she managed to get thrown overboard by giving a life preserver to a friend. My naive eight year old incorrectly assumed that if she did what was right – helping a victim – she would be a hero of sorts, immune to backlash.
School anti-bullying programs teach kids that bystanders have responsibilities.  To sit back and watch bullying in progress and choose not to act is, in essence, contributing to bullying.  Sure, they teach personal safety – the physical kind – along with bystander intervention.  But what about emotional safety?


Failure to prepare children for the full range of repercussions that an active bystander may incure is a bit like throwing them into the ocean when they only have experience swimming in a pool.
I reassured my would-be hero that doing the right thing isn’t always easy.  Making the choice to help doesn’t guarantee rewards.  When we decide to be an active part in other people’s problems, we risk getting hurt ourselves.  Sometimes it’s easy to choose, sometimes its not.  But one thing remains constant – we can only act and feel for ourselves.  We cannot be responsible for the actions or reactions of others.  If we can accept that fact, it makes choosing easier.
I was reticent to cast judgment on my daughter’s attempt to thwart a bully.  I can’t tell her definitively if she was right or wrong.  I’m not the one who has to live with the choice.  But I am the one who will support her choices and continue to provide the education that she is lacking.
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