“Research shows that when student bystanders intervene correctly, bullying can be cut more than half the time and within 10 seconds.” —Professor Debra Pepler
Bullying is cold-blooded, intentional cruelty and will flourish if tolerated. Forty-nine states have now passed anti-bullying policies and so-called bullying prevention programs are cranking off the presses in record numbers. But beware: Cambridge University professor David P. Farrington’s analysis of more than 600 bullying “programs” found only about one fourth are effective in reducing peer abuse. Studies do show, however, that mobilizing students to become active bystanders may be our best hope in reducing bullying. Active bystanders can:
- Reduce the audience that a bully craves
- Mobilize the compassion of witnesses to step in and stop the bullying
- Support the victim and reduce the trauma
- Be a positive influence in curbing a bullying episode
- Encourage other students to support a school climate of caring and stop the cruelty!
Another article I wrote, Mobilizing Bystanders to Stand Up to Bullies, shows my Dateline special that reviews how to teach specific bystander skills to kids. Here are some of my favorite books I use with students when I teach bystander skills, and parents can use these with their kids, too. (Click here to find recommended anti-bullying books for various ages.) The first step to helping kids step in and speak out against cruelty is mobilizing their hearts and providing the right examples.
There are dozens of other wonderful pieces of literature that deal with bystanders. The key is to find relevant books that have the potential to meaningfully impact your children’s lives. The story must be rich with a moral dilemma, be age appropriate, address cruelty, injustice and bullying, and then reveal a character who decides to step up and become an upstander. That moment can be transformational for a child, for a school and for our communities. That moment can mobilize a child’s heart to step in, step up and speak out against injustice.
Dr. Michele Borba is an internationally recognized expert and author on children, teens, parenting, bullying and moral development. Her work aims to help strengthen children’s character and resilience, build strong families, create compassionate and just school cultures and reduce peer cruelty. Her practical, research-based advice is culled from a career of working with more than a million parents and educators worldwide.