Once children have a good understanding of what qualifies as bullying, it’s time to teach them a few basic rules and guidelines that will serve as a foundation for anti-bullying efforts:
Anti-bullying rule #1: Teach children that there’s no such thing as an uninvolved witness
Kids need to understand that everyone plays a role in the bullying problem, and that there’s no such thing as an uninvolved witness. Have a discussion about the different roles we each play, whether perpetrator, victim, or bystander, and that even bystanders contribute to the problem when they remain silent or provide an audience for the bully. One crucial element that allows bullying to thrive is the failure of bystanders or witnesses to take a stand. So to prevent bullying, we need to push kids out of this silent middle ground.
“Explain that everyone has a part to play in preventing bullying,” say Dr. Karen DeBord and Stephanie Moore, “no one is allowed to be a bystander. Anyone who knows about or witnesses bullying must tell and get help.” (DeBord & Moore, 2011) Make sure they understand that laughing at jokes against someone or simply looking on or keeping to yourself is enabling the bully. You’re either speaking out against bullies or you are one, because there is no middle ground. Unless you’re A) Speaking out against it when it occurs, B) Telling an authority figure afterwards, or C) Consoling the victim afterwards and asking if there’s anything you can do to help, then you’re enabling the abuse.
Anti-bullying rule #2: Think before you speak
Teach kids that before they say anything about someone else, they should ask themselves these questions:
- Is it kind?
- Is it true or can it be proven?
- Is it necessary? Does it serve a productive purpose?
- Is it fair to the other child?
- Does it improve the world?
Unless they can answer yes to these questions, it probably doesn’t need to be said. If children can get in the habit of asking themselves these things whenever they encounter gossip or are tempted to say something negative about someone, it may get them to think twice.
Anti-bullying rule #3: Hatred and hostility needs to be a universal evil
Since kids never see themselves as bullies when they consider their hostility justified, you need to get rid of the excuses by teaching kids that hostility is always wrong. There is no good hatred. Period. Whether it’s geeky kids or illegal immigrants or serial killers, kids need to learn from a very young age that there is no hostility towards another human being which can be considered righteous, no matter what the circumstance. This does not mean being indifferent towards harmful actions, it simply means teaching kids that it is never good or righteous to find satisfaction in the suffering of another. Here are some ideas to help you get this point across:
A) Treat human maliciousness like a natural disaster. (See this section in our Family Recovery Handbook for a full discussion of this concept.) In the same way that a storm draws upon countless other variables before producing the tornado that destroys a town, human beings have countless other factors influencing their behavior that plays a role whenever maliciousness or undesirable character springs to the surface. We should lament the conditions that spawn hurtful behavior, not the person who commits it. Between our varied upbringings, past personal experiences, belief systems, fears, insecurities, needs, desires, biology, nature, and everything else, when bad things happen, it’s never because someone made the choice to be evil. It’s because the ingredients they’ve been dealt throughout life has guided them towards destructive choices. So acting hostile towards them in return is pointless, and about as constructive as getting angry at the wind.
B) Teach children that even when people do engage in bad behavior, nothing is accomplished by hating them. Even when directed against those who “deserve it,” hostility never makes the situation better. It never helps us understand each other more, it never pushes the other party towards more positive behavior and it never helps us attain better resolutions or prevent such things in the future. Therefore it’s never justified, righteous or good.