As she pushed open the classroom door, Jess felt a sense of dread. What were her classmates going to say after one of them had posted a really unflattering picture of her on Facebook the night before? The slogan under it said ‘fat and ugly’.
This was Jess’s first year in a new school, and for some reason she had been singled out by a group of girls who were relentless in their taunting. Sometimes they’d just whisper and laugh as she walked past, and other times it was worse. But every time it happened, the feeling was the same. Her heart would sink and she would long for a friend or a safe place, but mostly just for the bullying to stop.
It’s possible you know of someone like Jess at your school. Perhaps you’ve even been the target of bullying at some stage. Hopefully you aren’t a bully yourself! A newspaper3 in 2010 reported that half of Australian school students have bullied another student and 70% of those surveyed said that bullying was a moderately to extremely serious problem in their school.
Bullying is physical or verbal abuse, and has even been connected with reasons some teens commit suicide. So what can you do to help? Well, it’s amazing what being a friend can do for a person who is being bullied. If you’re willing, try picturing yourself in that person’s shoes for just a moment. How would you be feeling if you were being bullied? How must they hate coming to school? Even though they may be new at your school or they dress a little differently or they speak with an accent or something else makes them unique, on a basic level they are just like you.
They want to be loved and accepted and encouraged just like you do. And you could be the person who throws them a lifeline and makes school an awesome experience for them rather than torture every day.
Go over and talk – It can be pretty daunting at first but you’ll soon discover that they are an awesome person, with lots of interesting and fun things you can learn from. Everyone is different, so just choose to find out things about them that you don’t know.
Forget the popularity monitor – Befriending a person who doesn’t fit in may cost you some popularity for a little while, but that person will be eternally grateful to you and you just may gain a friend for life.
Put up, don’t put down – Find out the hidden treasures in that person or the things that they’re good at, and encourage, encourage, encourage!! There’s no limit to what a person can achieve when there are people around cheering them on.
Start an open clique – Welcome them into your group of friends, in fact make your group of friends one that’s not exclusive, but inclusive and inviting of others. Invite them to join in on things you’re doing, like a sporting team or a study group or birthday party. And remember to spread the word to all your friends that they’re a really awesome person.
Random acts of kindness – Do something to make them smile or to brighten their day, like maybe writing an encouraging post on their Facebook or leaving a small gift on their desk. In the midst of all the teasing and negative words they may be hearing, your kindness can be a ray of sunshine in their life.
Be courageous and speak up – If you see them being bullied, stick with your new friend and let the other kids know that the person is not alone. Often when a bully or group of bullies sees that their target is not alone, they’ll back off. It’s also good to speak to a teacher or someone else in authority to let them know what’s happening.
Get help – Lots of schools have chaplains or counsellors. These people are trained to help young people to deal with all sorts of situations in their lives, including bullying. So definitely point your friend in the direction of one of these helpful people. There are also some great free phone services like Kids Help Line: 1800 55 1800 or Lifeline: 131114. These people can offer advice and support any hour of the day or night, so feel free to let your friend know about them. You may even want to give one of these numbers a call yourself for some advice on how to help someone who’s being bullied.
Do your research – Find out as much as you can about how to stop bullying so that you’re ready to help anyone who’s in that situation. Check out: bullyingnoway.com.au. And there’s a Speak Up: Stop Bullying Pledge page on Facebook, so join the pledge while you’re at it!
Referenced: Courier Mail, Feb 28, 2010