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Sunday, October 13, 2019

How Teens Can Become Upstanders, Not Bystanders or Frenemies

Photo by Pablo Varela on Unsplash 

by Catharine Hannay, adapted from Being You: A Girl's Guide to Mindfulness

Be Kind Online 

Teen singer and actress Sabrina Carpenter says, “Using the Internet as a place to attack people, or to share negative opinions of someone, has always been a really strange concept to me.” (Seventeen magazine, Aug/Sep 2018) She tries not to take negative comments about herself seriously, and takes a break from being online if she’s feeling upset. 

There are times when it’s better to just let things go. Other times, you may need to stand up for yourself or someone else. Unfortunately, online bullying is very common.

It’s so easy to make a nasty comment, or to pass on an embarrassing photo or rumor, and it might not feel like it’s really hurting anyone. For that reason, I’m not crazy about the expression “in real life.” What you do online is part of your life, especially if that’s where you spend most of your time and how you do most of your communicating with other people.

In her book Cringeworthy, Melissa Dahl said it’s embarrassing but adorable when her grandma comments, “Sure do love you, Sweetie” on whatever she posts, and “How nice” when her brother adds a Facebook friend. 

You don’t have to go that far, but you can be kind online by choosing not to like, comment on, or share posts that are hurtful to other kids.

In I Have Been Cyberbullied. Now What? Caitie McAneney says, 
You may receive a text with a picture of someone and be told to pass it on. In that moment, you have to choose: Do you want to be an accomplice or break the cycle of bullying? If you don’t send the picture or post on, then it won’t reach as many people, and it may stop with you. 

Who's Getting Bullied?

According to McAneneny, these are the common targets for cyberbullying among teens:

  • kids who have physical disabilities or learning disabilities;
  • kids who are openly or suspected of gay;
  • kids who have or haven’t dated a lot of people;
  • kids who have any characteristic that makes them look different from other teens (this can include height, weight, acne, and wearing glasses or braces).

Carol Dweck gives a few more reasons that kids are bullied:
It could be for their more timid personality . . . what their background is, or how smart they are. (Sometimes they’re not smart enough; sometimes they’re too smart.)” (Mindset)

That’s an awful lot of kids! Nearly everybody is either taller or shorter than average, and nearly every teen either has or hasn’t been on a lot of dates.

The Trouble with Frenemies

It can be hard to understand you’re being bullied when it’s coming from your own friends. In the graphic novel Smile, Raina Telgemeier’s (2010) friends constantly criticize and make fun of her. She doesn’t realize that isn’t how real friends treat each other. After she finally breaks away from them, Raina is lonely for a little while, but then she finds a new group of friends who support and appreciate her.

My niece Alina learned about healthy and unhealthy friendships when she was targeted by a group of frenemies in elementary school and middle school. Some days they’d want to hang out with her; other days they’d tease or ignore her.

Alina’s Story

I was about 7 years old (second grade) when I first remember being bullied. I remember one day I was on the playground and approached a couple girls. They made several excuses for why they didn’t want to play with me. 
First, they said that I was too tall. After I pointed out that they weren’t the same height either and it didn’t make sense, they said they couldn’t play with me because I didn’t belong to their country club. 
I don’t remember my exact response to this, but I think (hope) it was along the lines of “so what?” But when they finally told me that I just wasn’t fun to play with, I walked away. 
It feels horrible, especially when you thought that those bullies were your friends. That was the worst part, I think—my bullies weren’t mean 100% of the time, which was very confusing. 
I think that one reason was that I was not as wealthy as them, meaning that I was not in their country club or neighborhood. However, I think that the main reason was because they felt special being a part of a group, which was made more special by excluding certain people. 
My parents’ support made a huge difference. I would say tell someone (parents, teachers, a friend) because if you are bullied the worst part is feeling like you’re alone. 

How to Be an Upstander

In Mindset, Carol Dweck explains why it’s so important to support victims of bullying:

Victims say that when they’re taunted and demeaned and no one comes to their defense, they start to believe they deserve it. They start to judge themselves and to feel that they are inferior. Bullies judge. Victims take it in. Sometimes it remains inside and can lead to depression and suicide. Sometimes it explodes into violence. 

Think about the kids in your school or neighborhood who might be the targets of bullying. Then answer the following questions. (Note to teachers: These could be used as writing prompts or discussion questions. In either case, please respect your students' wishes about how much they choose to share with you and their peers.)

  • Do you know any kids who are getting bullied or you think might be getting bullied?
  • What do you think might happen if you try talking to the bullies and asking them to stop? Would it likely help or make the situation worse?
  • What are some additional ways you could support the victims of bullying?
  • What is one small thing you could do this week to help support someone who’s being bullied?

Now comes the hardest but most important part: Actually go and do the one small thing you just wrote down.

Did you do that? What happened? How do you feel?

Sometimes other kids will join in the bullying, or won’t stand up to the bully, because they’re afraid of being targeted themselves. I know that coming to another kid’s defense might make you feel nervous, or even scared. You may not be able to stop the bullying, but you can be an ally. You can go up to someone quietly afterwards and ask if they’re OK. 

As Alina said, “The worst part is feeling like you’re alone.” Kids who are getting bullied will feel a lot better about themselves if they know someone cares.

Adapted from Being You: A Girl's Guide to Mindfulness, by Catharine Hannay. © Prufrock Press, 2019. Used with permission.

There are also several more excerpts from Being You at my author site,, including:

How Mindful Am I Online?