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Students who are bullied may fear going to school, experience anxiety and depression, or become at risk for suicide. No one deserves to feel this way. If you or someone you know is being bullied, it’s important to find a way to stop it. “You can think ahead and be ready to be assertive and stand up against bullying,” says Ron Slaby, PhD, senior scientist at the Education Development Center and co-creator of Eyes on Bullying.
In this series, we’re following the story of Ryan, a student who’s being bullied by Becky. Now it’s time for Ryan to decide how to react.
Scenario 1: “Shake it off”
Act like you didn’t hear her and keep walking
As Ryan leaves, Becky keeps yelling insults at him. She says, “I know you can hear me. You’re such a baby for walking away.” But after a short time, Becky stops. Ryan has his back to her and she can see that he’s not going to react. If he’s not getting upset, it’s not really worth it to her. Besides, other students are staring at her, and it makes her feel awkward.
According to Stomp Out Bullying, students who bully are looking for a reaction from the students they are bullying, especially a reaction that shows sadness or fear. If Ryan doesn’t react to Becky, she won’t get the satisfaction she’s looking for.
Move to a different part of the cafeteria
At lunch, Ryan was already sitting and eating when Becky sat at the table next to his and started loudly saying things like, “Why is Ryan eating? He’s already too fat.” As he eats, she keeps saying bad things about him to her friends. After a few minutes, Ryan takes his lunch and moves to a table on the other side of the cafeteria. Becky, who’s already sitting and eating with her friends, stays where she is and doesn’t say anything else to Ryan for the rest of the lunch period.
Confronting someone who is bullying you can be hard or scary. Even if the idea of confronting a bully doesn’t bother you, No Bullying says that walking away is often the best way to deal with the situation. Once Ryan is far enough away that he won’t hear Becky’s insults, she can’t continue to bully him without inconveniencing herself. She may try to bully Ryan a few more times, but if he keeps walking away, Becky will realize that bullying Ryan just isn’t worth the effort.
Change your privacy settings
In addition to teasing Ryan during school, Becky also posts insults on Facebook and Twitter about him. Once she even shared a picture of him that she Photoshopped to look like a cow. First Ryan tries to ignore her, but every time someone “likes” the status it keeps showing up in his feed, hurting him more and more each time. Ryan decides to change his Facebook privacy settings to block Becky so that she can’t tag him in statuses anymore and he can’t see what she shares. He also blocks her on Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram so that he can avoid her on social media altogether.
Blocking a cyberbully from being able to contact you or even see you online is one of the most effective strategies to stop the bullying, according to the Cyberbullying Research Center. If Becky can’t talk to, tag, or even find Ryan online, it makes it much harder for her to cyberbully him.
Scenario 2: “Stand up to the person bullying”
“Leave me alone, Becky.”
When Ryan walks past Becky’s table in the cafeteria, she starts “mooing” again. This time, instead of walking by, Ryan decides to stand up to her. He puts his lunch down, turns to Becky, looks her in the eye and says, “Leave me alone!” Becky is clearly shocked that Ryan said something back to her. After a few seconds, Becky turns away and mutters to herself, “Whatever, you’re not worth my time anyway.”
Students who bully will choose victims who they think are weaker than they are, because it makes them feel more powerful. When Ryan stands up to Becky, it shows that he’s not as weak as she thinks he is. According to Reach Out, telling a bully to leave you alone, as simple as it seems, can be effective in getting the bully off your back.
“Nothing you say bothers me.”
When Becky starts saying mean things to Ryan at school, he doesn’t give her a chance to finish. He cuts her off as soon as she starts talking and says, “Nothing you say bothers me.” Becky says, “Yeah right, you probably go home and cry every night.” But Ryan looks her in the eye and says, “Nope, I couldn’t care less.” This throws Becky off because she can see by Ryan’s confidence that her comments are not having an effect on him.
The truth is that Ryan does care, but he decided to try out the saying “fake it till you make it.” Ryan thought that if he acted confident and pretended like he didn’t care, it might make Becky stop bothering him. He was right. After he stood up to her, Becky decides that she’s bored with teasing him, so she starts talking to her friends instead.
“Responding with confidence and strength—no matter how scared or upset you might really be—will show the student bullying you that you’re not going to be a victim,” says Becki Cohn-Vargas, EdD, director of Not in Our School.
Make a joke
In the cafeteria, Becky calls Ryan a cow as she walks past his table. This time, Ryan is ready and hands Becky a carton of milk as she’s laughing at him. “Just a little present from us cows,” he says. Becky has no idea how to react to this, and other students start laughing with Ryan instead of with Becky. Sensing the change in the students’ reaction, Becky puts down the milk and walks away.
According to TeensHealth, using humor is a good backup plan when you can’t just walk away from a bully. Bullies expect you to get angry or upset, not to make a joke. When Ryan makes a joke to Becky instead of yelling or running off, she’s thrown off guard and can’t figure out how to continue bullying him.
Tell an adult about the bullying
As soon as they get home from school, Becky starts sending text messages to Ryan saying things like, “No one likes you. Go back to your old school so we don’t have to deal with you.” Ryan usually just ignores these messages, but he always saves them in case he decides to tell an adult. Even though he’s still a little afraid of what Becky will do when she finds out, Ryan decides that he’s had enough and it’s time to tell someone. He prints out the messages Becky has been sending him, takes them to the school counselor, and explains how Becky has been bullying him in the cafeteria and online.
Most schools have rules against any type of bullying, including cyberbullying. Ryan and Becky’s school is no exception. Because this is Becky’s first strike for bullying, she gets two days of detention and a warning that if she does it again, she’ll be suspended. Becky’s parents also get angry with her for getting in trouble at school, and they take away her phone for two weeks.
The principal and school counselor decide to make Becky write a letter of apology to Ryan and his parents. At first she’s mad about writing the letter, but as she writes it, she starts to realize that part of her is sorry for treating Ryan so badly and she feels guilty. Plus, Becky’s school performance is important to her and her parents, so she backs off on her bullying to avoid being suspended.
Scenario 3: “Be a bully back” (What not to do)
“Shut up. You’re stupid.”
When Ryan insults her, Becky gets even angrier and her friends come to her defense. Even Becky’s friends who had never gotten involved in the bullying before start yelling at Ryan, calling him stupid and jealous. Now that her friends are actively supporting her, Becky feels even more confident about bullying Ryan. She still yells mean things at him in the cafeteria, and she and her friends tease him between classes. Now Ryan feels like he’ll never get a break from the bullying.
What could Ryan have done instead?
Instead of being a bully back and making Becky angrier, Ryan could have calmly said, “Stop calling me fat and leave me alone.” According to Boston vs. Bullies, being assertive instead of submissive or aggressive is one of the best courses of action when dealing with a bully. When Ryan stands up for himself calmly, it lets Becky know that he’s not going to continue to be her victim, but he’s also not going to escalate the situation.
“I guess being fat is something we have in common.”
Ryan doesn’t know this, but even though Becky is thin, she’s sensitive about her weight. When Ryan calls her fat, Becky gets angrier than anyone at school has ever seen. She screams at him, “I’ll never be as fat as you!” and throws her food in his face. After this, Becky stops making fun of Ryan about his weight, but her taunts become threatening and she starts spreading nasty rumors about him.
What could Ryan have done instead?
It may be hard to understand when you’re being bullied, but many students bully because they feel bad about themselves in some way. Instead of insulting Becky back, Ryan could have said something like, “I know I’m a little overweight, but that doesn’t give you the right to harass me about it.” Bullies get their power from knowing that what they say is hurting the person they’re bullying. By showing that he’s confident and accepts himself no matter what Becky says, Ryan is showing Becky that bullying him is a waste of her time.
“You think you’re so popular but everyone hates you.”
When Ryan tells Becky that everyone hates her, Becky starts walking around from table to table asking other students if this is true. She’s clearly angry, and the other students are scared of her, so they all say no. Now some of the other students are mad at Ryan for getting them involved in Becky’s bullying. Ryan is humiliated that his comeback backfired. Now he feels even lonelier than he did before.
What could Ryan have done instead?
Ryan should let Becky know that he’s not going to put up with her bullying alone by saying that if she continues, he’ll have to tell a teacher. Many people who are being bullied don’t say anything to an adult because they’re afraid that the bullying will get worse or that no adult will believe them. But not telling allows Becky to keep bullying Ryan.
According to No Bullying, if students who bully know that they’ll get in trouble for it, they’re more likely to stop. If Ryan is afraid that no one will believe him, he can take a screenshot or save the messages that Becky sends him online to show to an adult at school. He can also bring a witness with him when he talks to an adult so that they can back up his story about what happened in the cafeteria.
Becki Cohn-Vargas, PhD, director, Not in Our School, Oakland, California.
Ron Slaby, PhD, senior scientist, Education Development Center, and co-creator, Eyes on Bullying, Waltham, Massachusetts.
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