(Dr. Clayton Lawrence, founder and CEO, shares his thoughts in a weekly column focused on community wellness and inspiring others.)
The effects of bullying don’t stop when the assault has finished. Those who have been bullied by others will carry the memory with them for the rest of their lives. Words and actions stick, seriously affecting self-esteem, self-worth and the ability to reach for one’s goals. For some, these memories are easily overcome, but sadly for others, they manifest in unhealthy ways, from overeating and drug abuse, to mental health issues, crime and violence.
Although schools send the message that bullying will not be tolerated, the challenge of wiping it out altogether is impossible. But it can be more effective when peers make a commitment to take the lead by being the voice and shoulder that others are missing in times of distress and humiliation. There are many ways you can put a stop to bullying and, therefore, create a safer school and a brighter future for others.
Here are a few ways you can make a difference:
The everyday commitment to practice kindness is such a small way to make a big impact. Practicing kindness means demonstrating acceptance, being nonjudgmental and inviting others – even those who are different – into your group. This could be as simple as selecting someone as a class partner, passing the ball to someone in gym class, or pulling up a chair at lunch for someone looking a bit lonely. This works in amazing ways. Not only does the person on the receiving end feel a sense of belonging, but it sets a wonderful example for others to do the same. Imagine the ripple effect your actions could have!
Part of practicing kindness is defending what you know to be right and standing up against what you know to be wrong. If you have witnessed bullying in any form – peer pressure, ridicule, or even physical contact – don’t be afraid to stand up and step in. It is important to consider if doing so could escalate a dangerous situation (in which case, seeking the help of an adult is always best), but when words are being thrown, take a stand and use your voice where a victim may be voiceless.
Seek the guidance of an adult.
Sometimes situations are just too big for us to handle on our own. It is important to be there for others and to be trusted friends, but it is even more important to alert an adult when you sense that someone is headed for trouble. This could mean confiding with a parent, teacher, coach or counselor if someone seems to be suffering from a mental illness, but it also means reporting when others have taken “making fun” just a bit too far. It is far more commendable to be the person to help prevent things from getting worse than to stand back and watch something happen.
Consider rallying others to do the same.
Imagine what the power of even just ten like-minded individuals could do! Consider speaking with the school counselor or a trusted teacher about the idea of forming a group of students who are on a mission to wipe out bullying and create a school of students that supports and encourages each other. Oftentimes more than one person may share in your drive to eliminate bullying, but this desire goes unspoken without a platform for sharing. The possibilities are endless and could include in-school meetings, special projects and creating an environment that is filled with supportive words and inspirational quotes. Social media could provide an opportunity to expand the efforts, network with others and reverse the negative ways in which these platforms are being used.