Just Do Something
Dear Engaged Bystander: I just watched an NBC special called "My Kid Doesn't Bully." I felt that this was worth writing about because they talk explicitly about the role of bystanders. What impressed me most on this show was how one of the invited experts, Rosiland Wiseman, (author of Queen Bees and Wannabees) talked about the impact of the bystander’s decision to do nothing. She said that the most common choice that bystanders will make is to stay “neutral” and not getting involved. She went onto say that this decision is actually a decision to support the bully.
Now, this was clearly a made for TV special and there is a lot that is problematic about it (e.g., the boys are in sports settings and the girls are looking at fashion, there is no discussion of race dynamics, and the “actors” who played bullies were considerable older than the participating kids – making it even more difficult to confront them.
But the TV special made some excellent points. All of the experts talked about how it is important to do something – that doing something is a way for the bystanders to ensure that the bully or “mean girl” does not take away everyone’s power. At one point, when the victim actor began to cry because of the bullying by another actor, one of the boys watching the incident just lay down on the floor of the gym. This was one effective way to deflect the bully’s attention on the victim. In another incident, one girl was so angry that she just confronted the bully and said that this kind of bullying behavior was just unacceptable. Truth be told, her words were more along the lines of WTF…
What I liked about the special is that it showed concrete examples of what children and teens can do when they see this kind of bullying behavior. And through the examples, it was clear that there were many options for what a bystander can do in the moment but also afterwards.
What I didn’t like was that they clearly said that “kindness doesn’t work.” They told parents that being nice and kind is not enough because it is not effective when confronting a bully. I get what they were trying to say, but I believe that we do need to be able to be BOTH confrontative AND kind. The bully may back off when he or she is confronted. But if we want the bully to change, we need to be sure to find ways to show the bully a better way through the difficulties of adolescents.
This same wisdom can be applied to sexual violence prevention. I would argue that we don’t know:
- The simple ways to talk with someone about their behaviors
- How to confront someone’s sexual behaviors in a kind way, that encourages them to change
- The impact of doing nothing, because if we did, I am SURE that most families would at least try to confront the behaviors they see in front of them.
Hopefully we will be able to get this same kind of attention soon. In the meantime, take the lead of these kids and say something the next time you see something.