We Are All Bystanders Of Bullying. It Is Time To Speak Up.

NoBullyThanks to The Bully Project for sponsoring my writing. Visit their website to join the movement and learn more.

I have written before about the sleep-away camp where I was bullied for 2 weeks. I don’t know why it happened. I don’t know why I never spoke up. I don’t even know how or why I became friends with the girls a few years later.

5 years after being bullied, I went to a party and setup an elaborate trick to make fun of a girl. I did it for no reason other than I didn’t like her and had decided that she shouldn’t be at the party. I’m not sure why I didn’t like her or why, that particular day, I needed others to help me make her feel like she didn’t belong.  (I’m not going into the details of the incident to protect her right to tell her story.)

While what I did does not fit the exact definition of bullying because it wasn’t repetitive, I find it shocking, not only because of how horrible those 2 weeks of being bullied were for me at 11 years old, but because I have no idea why I turned on this girl years later. I’m sure those who picked on me at camp weren’t sure why they did it either. I had grown up with some of them, but in a different environment under certain circumstances, I was singled out.

My confusion, having been on both sides, is also found in the literature on bullying. The only consensus that I have seen in the research is the power of the bystander. I remember one girl at camp standing up for me during sailing class, and I had reprieve if only for the day. And I know if one friend had said to me at the party, Alex, you’re being mean, I would’ve stopped, ashamed.

Of course, most bullying will not end with one voice. But one voice can inspire other voices in the crowd.  One voice can tell a teacher who can add his authority.  One voice can give a child who is bullied courage and hope.

Today, I am no longer bullied or bullying, but I take my bystander status seriously.

Stand Up For Ourselves and Others: I teach my children to not only stand up for themselves or tell a grownup if a friend will not listen, I teach them to stand up for others. I began with teaching my oldest child to stand up for his younger sister. I taught him that he had to be kind to her particularly in school. And I have heard my 5-year-old tell a child who is teasing my daughter to stop. I have also told a child who is teasing my children to stop. I don’t see it as good fun. I see it as a non-judgemental teaching moment.

Our Rainbow Flag
Our flag.

Stand Up For Groups Commonly Picked On: We have a rainbow flag above our front door. We ordered it when multiple news stories came out on gay teens committing suicide. We hang it not because we are gay, but because we want gay, lesbian, bisexual and questioning children, students and adults  to know that there is a home where they are okay just they way are. We want to be a light in the darkness of prejudice.

Speak Out Against Bullying Language and Jokes: I grew up a lot when I went to college, and my first sign of change was when a friend made a joke with a racial slur. I called him out on it. He balked, but I told him: Don’t use those words around me. That same year, a friend told me that calling something “so gay” was hurtful to him because I was equating gay to stupid. I had never considered that point and removed the word for my vocabulary. I am grateful he spoke up and continued to live by his example. I’m not the language police and I don’t go looking for fights about words, but I will not stand by while others use language to hurt those around us.

I would love to hear more ideas on how to use our power as bystanders, as teacher, as parents, as people, to stop bullying.

Go here if you can’t see the trailer for BULLY.

Disclaimer: I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective. Find showings in your area for The Bully Project and buy tickets here. If your city isn’t on the list, you can vote to bring the movie to your hometown.

Alex Iwashyna

Alex Iwashyna went from a B.A. in philosophy to an M.D. to a SAHM, poet and writer by 30. She spends most of her writing time on, a humor blog (except when it's serious) about her husband fighting zombies, awkward attempts at friendship, and dancing like everyone is watching. She also has a soft spot for culture, politics, and rude Southern people who offend her Yankee sensibilities. She parents 2 elementary-aged children, 1 foster baby, 3 cats, and 1 puppy, who are all Southern but not rude. Yet.

21 thoughts to “We Are All Bystanders Of Bullying. It Is Time To Speak Up.”

  1. Fantastic post, Alex, and by far the best sponsored post ever. I am a middle school teacher. Bullying is one of the most awful things for kids. I am thankful that we work hard to eliminate bullying at our school and address the problem immediately. We have extremely high expectations of our students and, thankfully, they usually rise to the occasion. I, however, was not so lucky at that age. In fact, one of the greatest bullies I dealt with was the counselor’s son, so I was essentially trapped. I vowed to NEVER let a child feel the way I did and know that they always had someone to support them.

    The video trailer had be in tears. I’m off to share this post and that video on Facebook.

  2. Thank you for this post. We’re dealing with bullying in our house this year (unfortunately, it’s what I would consider teacher condoned), and to see people posting about (and that the documentary is sponsoring posts about it) really lifts my heart.

  3. There needs to be stricter policies within schools about this. My sister was bullied all through grade school.
    I had to deck a ho in the nose and my parents had to threat suing. It was terrible.
    While my sister is awesome now and gorgeous I can still see the effects of what bullying did to her.
    Thanks for writing about this.

  4. I hope to teach my kids to speak up, too. I know there were times that I stood by, watching or even participating in something that made me uncomfortable, simply because I didn’t have the confidence to say anything. Those moments in my past make me cringe, and I hope my kids have less of them.

    1. Thank you for your honesty in this comment. I had a hard time looking at myself and seeing how I’d been on both sides. Or all the sides as a child. I’m glad to be a grownup today, but like you, hope to raise my kids to be more vocal.

  5. As a future teacher (hopefully), I worry a lot about bullying in schools and not being able to see it and take action. I hope that I do not fail students by being ignorant to this very sad problem.

  6. I was bullied mercilessly throughout my childhood, and just thinking about it brings back such a wave of emotions–shame, rage, pain, helplessness–I am so proud of you for doing this, Alex.

  7. This is a great series. I like how you’ve written about your part in both roles. I think showing the various ways bullying can look is helpful for kids and parents alike–because you’re right, we didn’t identify this behavior as “bullying” when we were kids.

  8. I hate admitting that I’ve bullied. I did what I call the Group Bully, like the gang mentality – I wanted so badly to fit in with the “cool” kids that I went along when they picked on other kids.

    Awareness is key. I do talk to my oldest about this – he’s six and I’m straightforward with him. We’re less direct with the three year old just yet, but we do talk about kindness and how it looks to be kind to EVERYONE.

    Well said, Alex. Thanks for this post!

  9. Just the trailer for that movie hurts my heart. I am that same bystander that you are these days. I would jump out of my car to stop bullying if necessary. I won’t tolerate it for my children or anyone else’s. And you already know how much I love your flag. 🙂

  10. Bullying is a huge problem and I am so proud you are helping to bring more awareness. It starts with us as parents and sets a tone in the house, playdates, etc. about how we treat and view others publicly AND PRIVATELY!

  11. I was bullied. I don’t think I bullied too, but I was unfriendly to people I thought were “beneath me.” What a shame that world of pride masking itself as insecurity.

    Great post.

  12. Thank you for finding the words to breathe life into this important post. I don’t remember being bullied. And I know I wasn’t a bully. I just don’t remember it as a part of my life. But that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a part of others. The conversation about bullying is becoming a hot topic, as it should be. I hope this dialogue creates a safe environment for children now.

  13. What a beautiful, eloquent post Alex. Between that and the trailer that followed, I’m moved to tears. We all of us need to stand up with and for each other these days, as bullying is happening not just in the school yards and on playdates, but in our legislative bodies as well. Perhaps in the process of teach ing our children to recognize bullying, name it, and stand up for themselves and others when it’s happening, we’ll be able to recognize it, name it, and stand up ourselves for all those who are marginalized and disempowered where ever they may be.

  14. Great post! I totally agree about everyone being bystanders. At the very least, we can say something positive and supportive to those who are being bullied. That can make a huge difference. I’ve seen it happen again and again.

    I’m glad to say the movie is coming to my hometown this weekend. Hooray!

  15. We should all take our bystander status seriously. It often only takes one brave voice to open the mouths of others. Plus, friends really can influence someone who is perhaps making a bad decision… more so than parents sometimes.
    PS- Thank you for being honesty.

  16. I used to bully my teachers. Is that bad, too?

    In some cases I do feel a little ashamed of myself. Some were such easy targets, and I did not realize the power I held. I was 13, how was I to know they’d mind so?

    Some were afraid to come in to school, I later heard.

  17. What is odd is how bullies think the pleasure they get from aggression is the same as the pleasure the get from humor. Aside from the sociopaths (another animal) most bullies know the difference between aggression, intentionally harassing someone, and a harmless joke or friendly teasing. They ignore that knowledge because they are having so much ‘fun’ – hence the Abu Ghraib prison photos. It is very strange stuff.

  18. excellent post. such an important topic.

    i see so many kinds of bullying, but the one that infuriates me the most is adults bullying other adults. Because that is where it starts. Our kids see that and the cycle continues.

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