From a Bystander to an UpStander

With Burger Kings Bullying Awareness video going viral, we wanted to share some strategies on how to build confident bystanders. We refer to a confident bystander as an UpStander, and we have our lovely Miss Stacey sharing today about what we can do!

Building Confident Bystanders
By: Stacey Fredericks, MSW

Recently at a Bulldog Solution assembly, while going from group to group reporting strategies on how to end bullying, a young girl’s response stood out from the rest. Many of the other students said things like, “be a friend, comfort the victim, tell an adult, speak out if a friend/acquaintance is doing the bullying,” etc. These are all good strategies… if and only if the bystander has the confidence to act on what he/she witnessed. The girl said, “Be confident in who you are. Be yourself.”

Growing up from childhood to teenage years is about developing identity, and students are trying to figure who they are and what values they ascribe to day-to-day. They are self-conscious and the courage to intervene in difficult situations often does not come easily. If a student feels confident in who they are as an individual and how they relate to others, they are more likely to be strong, effective bystanders. Here are some ways to help youth become more confident:

Get Involved and Build Skills: Looking back into my junior high journal, I found that every single one of my writings was not about the school day, but about soccer, choir, art club- the list goes on. The areas of my life I was most proud and what made me who I was, were the activities I participated in. Enrichment activities provide individuals with purpose and a place to practice making decisions. If a student becomes involved, they have a place to safely develop skills that make them feel more confident. They know who they are in that group, they experience rapid personal growth, and have products to show (art projects, concerts, drama club, or sports games) where they can feel accomplished. Not only do they learn to grow skills, but they also learn social awareness. The group can act as an informal support network- with positive role models and a  less intimidating peer circle where students can be themselves and learn pro-social communication skills.

Sometimes it can also help students to participate in activities outside of their schools, such as community groups, park districts, churches, etc. If there is some drama they are involved in at school or if they feel trapped in an earlier version of themselves, having a larger network can be helpful. When exposed to more environments and situations, they understand the world is bigger than their schools, and they have a functional support outside.

Recognize Red Flags: We all have doubts that come and go. Doubts can arise in bullying situations or drama (gossip, teasing, exclusion.) Kids are learning constantly and taking in conflicting messages of how to deal with problems from different sources- through social media, YouTube, TV shows, movies, peers, parents, and teachers. With all the conflicting messages and variety of ways people respond to situations in these channels, young people can get lost. They might not know how to respond and instead, freeze, unsure of what to do, so they don’t do anything.

Teach your child/student to recognize Red Flags, such as name calling in any form, physical contact, intentional exclusion, sharing of private information, or discrimination based on race, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, socioeconomic status, disability, physical appearance, etc. If they are able to identify when one of these things is happening, that can help combat the questions that might arise: What if the victim did something to deserve it? What if they are just messing around? What if they don’t want me to intervene? If they spot a “Red Flag” situation, they will be more confident that the aggressor is in the wrong.

Intentional Communication: In our teaching role as educators or parents, we must always choose our words wisely, as they send a message on how the student perceives themselves and a situation. Use affirmations to recognize when a student sticks up for themselves or for others in an appropriate manner. This can be a simple as, “I saw Isaac tried to take the rest of your fruit snacks; you made a good choice reminding him that they were yours. Those belong to you.” Or, “Thank you, Sam, for reminding me that Jalen hasn’t had a turn to read yet. That is thoughtful of you.” While seemingly small in the moment, these messages can reinforce that speaking out for fairness and safety for all is celebrated. When praising students, praise the effort, so that they know their work and choices are what is important and that these can change at any time.

Plan a home or class culture where students are aware of the appropriate response to common situations that occur.

For example, in my taekwondo class, when a student falls down while trying to kick, it can invoke embarrassment of the student and laughter among the rest of the class. However, in our dojang, the entire class claps. This is the culture that is created and there is no variance or confusion on how one should respond if this occurs. The instructors teach that when someone falls down, it means they gave a strong effort, worthy of applause.

Know Who and How to Tell: Parents, teachers, and school staff should continuously be working to maintain open and supportive communication channels with all students so that they feel comfortable discussing a situation they witnessed without being judged or dismissed. Students should be aware of the go-to adults in the building, such as a counselor, social worker, or dean.

Schools should review the expectations, consequences, and protocol for administrative handling of a bullying situation so that students are aware of the process and what support they will have when they speak up about a bully. It helps students to feel more comfortable to speak up! 

Be Kind Be Brave,
 Stacey Fredericks

Stacey Fredericks, Social Worker & Facilitator Bulldog Solution
Stacey Fredericks has a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Iowa, where she studied Psychology and Spanish. She received her Master’s in Social work in 2016 from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a concentration in Community Health and Urban Development going on to become a Licensed Social Worker. Stacey’s other areas of professional expertise include coaching, program coordination, resource coordination, and volunteer work with AmeriCorps and Project Winter Camp Jamaica. Overall, Stacey is passionate about Social Emotional Learning, Behavioral Psychology, Education Program Development and Policy, Immigration Issues, Community Development, and Sports Based Youth Development.