Be an upstander to help stop bullying

To the Editor:

For some children, back to school means back to bullying. Others will learn for the first time what it feels like to be bullied. Millions of children are bullied in this country each year.

Bullying is abuse of power. We see it not only in schools and on playgrounds, but in homes, businesses, churches, and at all levels of government — virtually everywhere. The silence and inaction of bystanders encourages abusers. Many children and adults would make a choice to act if they knew what to do and had the support to do it. They would become upstanders.

Two high school girls successfully campaigned to get the word “upstander” into dictionaries. The Oxford now defines upstander as, “A person who speaks or acts in support of an individual or cause, particularly someone who intervenes on behalf of a person being attacked or bullied.” Example:  “Encourage your daughter to be an upstander, not a bystander.”

These students said, “An upstander is an individual who sees wrong and acts, and the most important part is that anyone can become one. Many ... call the act of standing up “positive bystander intervention,” but this misses the point. A person who takes a stand against an act of injustice or intolerance is not a ‘positive bystander,’ they are an UPstander. The word itself has the ability to empower students to make an active change in their schools, in an effort to build communities that support difference and unify against intolerance.”

They also said, “The concept of an upstander is critical to the well-being of our society … .” Isn't that the truth! We wouldn't have a country based on the principle “all men are created equal” if it weren’t for historical upstanders. We won’t protect that principle and make it a reality without the upstanders of today and tomorrow.

Our local school districts comply with The Dignity for All Students Act, which ordered school districts to “revise their codes of conduct and adopt policies intended to create a school environment free from harassment and discrimination.” Much of the anti-bullying attention, though, seems to be focused on after-the-fact interventions rather than prevention.

The cooperation and support of parents and the community is essential to creating a bully-free environment in schools and to extending it to families and communities. The Educational Development Center program Eyes On Bullying has an online toolkit that is full of good information and resources (http://www.eyesonbullying.org/pdfs/toolkit.pdf) .

Bully Bust ( https://bullybust.org/students/upstander) lists 10 ways to be an upstander and says this:

“Every single day we each have the opportunity to make our schools (and our world!) a better place. Putting an end to bullying is everyone’s responsibility. When we work together and stand strong against bullying, we are creating communities that are stronger, safer, and more supportive — places where every person is valued for who they are. Here’s how you can help:

— 1. Learn more about mean, cruel, and bullying behavior. Educate yourself and your community with the resources on BullyBust.org. For example: Why do kids bully? Where does bullying take place most often in your school? What are the effects of bullying? How can we prevent it? Understanding this information will help you if you are bullied, and will help you to stand up to bullies if a friend or classmate is being bullied;

— 2. Help others who are being bullied. Be a friend, even if this person is not yet your friend. Go over to them. Let them know how you think they are feeling. Walk with them. Help them to talk to an adult about what just happened. (Just think for a moment about how great this would be if someone did this for you when you were being picked on or hurt!);

— 3. Stop untrue or harmful messages from spreading online or in person. If someone sends a message or tells you a rumor that you know is untrue, stand up and let the person know it is wrong. Think about how you would feel if someone spread an untrue rumor about you. Don’t laugh, send the message on to friends, or add to the story. Make it clear that you do not think that kind of behavior is cool or funny;

— 4. Get friends involved. Share this site (and other related sites) with friends. Let people know that you are an upstander and encourage them to be one too. Sign the Stand Up Pledge, and make it an everyday commitment for you and your friends;

— 5. Make friends outside of your circle. Eat lunch with someone who is alone. Show support for a person who is upset at school by asking them what is wrong or bringing them to an adult who can help;

— 6. Be aware of the bullying and upstander policies at your school and keep it in mind when you witness bullying. What are the school’s bully prevention policies? Are there also policies that “catch” kids “being good”? How can you support school rules and codes of conduct support students and adults doing the right thing? If there isn’t a policy, get involved or ask teachers or front-office staff to speak about how you can reduce bullying;

— 7. Welcome new students. If someone is new at your school, make an effort to introduce them around and make them comfortable. Imagine how you would feel leaving your friends and coming to a new school;

— 8. Refuse to be a “bystander” and be a role model to others instead! If you see friends or classmates laughing along with the bully, tell them that they are contributing to the problem. Let them know that kind of behavior is not OK in your school;

— 9. Respect others’ differences and help others to respect differences. It’s cool for people to be different — that’s what makes each of us unique. Join a diversity club at school to help promote tolerance in your school; and

— 10. Develop an Upstander/ Prevention program or project with a teacher or principal’s support that will help reduce bullying and promote socially responsible behavior in school. Bring together a team of students, parents and teachers who are committed to preventing bullying, and create a community-wide project to raise awareness, share stories, and develop helpful supports. Learn more about how to start an Upstander Alliance at www.bullybust.org/upstander and access free support to sustain your team.”

It’s up to us to make a difference.”

Dianne Sefcik

Westerlo

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