There are moments of choice in all our lives when we are called upon to stand up for our best dreams and aspirations. Sometimes we recognize and seize these opportunities, sometimes we ignore these moments and sometimes we don’t ever hear their call to our spirits. Each of these moments and our responses create long-lasting effects on our self-confidence and self-esteem; on our vision of the futures we want and on the dedication and determination with which we pursue our dreams. Obviously, being subjected to harassment, bullying and abuse, or giving in to the temptation to bully helpless people creates these critical moments. And being a bystander or a witness to bullying and abuse is also one of these moments that calls out to our spirits. Will we step up and defend what we know to be right? Are we cowards or lazy? Do we know what to do? Are we skilled?
There are major long term effects on kids who are bystanders and look away or don’t know how to act effectively or who aren’t supported in their actions by responsible adults. New studies are beginning to provide public evidence, but from our own experiences we all know what the results of those studies will be.
When we see a wrong being done, often repeatedly, and when we don’t act or when no one else acts to right that wrong, we are deeply affected. When we don’t know what to do to stop the wrong our helplessness increases. When the adults and other students don’t act to protect targets of abuse, our own vulnerability and insecurity increases tremendously. Our guilt for our inaction tries to goad us to do better next time.
When we’re children, we try to make sense of the world. When we see actions that don’t make sense or that seem evil, we are thrown into confusion and fear. Naturally, we want our world to be reasonable and controllable. And we want to be protected by the responsible adults – principals, teachers, parents. When evil triumphs or wrong goes unpunished, the world becomes bleak and too many kids lose confidence in their own efforts and chances of success; we can get insecure, stressed, unassertive, discouraged and depressed, and we can give up. And we also carry a great burden of guilt, shame and negative self-talk.
Since 60-70% of school children witness bullying, the scars on a significant percent of the population can be staggering.
One of our tasks as parents is to prepare our children and teenagers for these critical situations. We must give our kids and teens age-appropriate guidance about their options: When and how to intervene by themselves, or to get principals, teachers and school staff involved, or to get us parents involved.
A second task for parents is to plan ahead; ally with like-minded, proactive parents to make sure that your:
- State legislators pass effective laws to stop bullying.
- School district administrators and your children’s school officials create policies and an effective program to stop bullies.
- Principal, teachers and staff are courageous and skilled in enforcing that program.
A key factor in every successful program is that bystanders-witnesses are rallied to support bullied targets, have been trained to be skillful in their actions and are backed by principals, teachers and staff.
Opportunities, moments of choice are precious and critical in every child’s development. Every call we spurn becomes a burden that weighs us down. The scars left by inaction when facing wrong or evil can last a lifetime and can diminish our lives. They always remain to call us to do better next time.
As Pat Tillman’s father said about his son answering such a call, “You only get a few chances in life to show your stuff. Often it’s a split second when you step up or you don’t. If you don’t step up and you should have, that eats away at a young man. And I don’t think it goes away when he gets older.” The same goes for a young woman.