"When people say bad things about each other, do I step in?"

Question

This is really not about me, it's about other people. I know that high school is the place where people basically discover themselves, or at least try to. Kids are afraid to be themselves because of other people's judgments. When people say bad things about each other, do I step in? I don't really know these people so I wouldn't know if what they're saying is true or not. So most of the time I just smile or nod but I really don't do anything about it. Is that bullying?

Answer from counsellor

You ask some really great questions. What do we do when we hear people talking about others, and how do we know when we should step in? Growing from that, what do we say when we speak up? Let’s talk about these things a bit… First up I think it’s important to talk about what bullying is. In general actions can be considered bullying if they’re done to hurt, frighten, exclude or insult someone. You can find out more about bullying in general on this section of our website: kidshelpphone.ca/Teens/InfoBooth/Bullying/What-is-bullying.aspx. Based on that definition, I think if you were hearing things being said that were meant to exclude or hurt someone else’s feelings (even if they aren’t there) then it could be considered bullying. So what do we do in those situations? Witnessing bullying makes you a bystander – someone who isn’t directly involved but who is hearing or seeing what is being done. Most people who are bystanders do nothing, either because they don’t want to get bullied themselves, because they don’t know what to do, or because they think other people will disapprove of them doing something. But bystanders actually hold a lot of power, by doing nothing it can be seen as giving approval or agreeing to whatever is being said. But bystanders don’t need to be part of the bullying, they can actually do a lot to address it. As a bystander you can: - Speak up and show disapproval for what is being said. “That’s mean,” or “We shouldn’t say things like that.” Even choosing not to smile or nod can send a strong message because it shows you don't want to take part in this and you don't think it's okay. - Remind the people speaking up that bullying is against school rules and could lead to getting in trouble. - Distract people by changing the conversation topic. “This is boring, let’s talk about __ instead.” - Talk to your friends honestly about what is being said and how it makes you feel. Let them know you don’t want to take part in talking about other people behind their backs or saying bad things. Chances are there are other people in your group of friends who feel the same way but feel too nervous to speak up about it. You can also find more information and ideas about being a bystander on this section of our website: kidshelpphone.ca/Teens/InfoBooth/Bullying/Are-You-A-Bystander.aspx. I’m very curious about how you feel to hear all of this… I hope my message doesn’t come across as harsh or judgemental in any way, because that wasn’t my intention at all. Honestly I think that most people at one point in their lives or another are involved as a bystander in bullying, but just because it’s happened before doesn’t mean it needs to keep happening. Remind yourself how you would feel if someone said those things about you, and do as much as you feel comfortable and safe doing to speak up against it. This can be a really difficult thing to deal with, but I think the fact that you’re reflecting on what’s happening and how you can be involved in it is really encouraging. J If you want to talk more about what you want to do or how you’re feeling about all of this then I want to encourage you to get in touch with us again. Okay? Our phone lines are open 24/7 at 1-800-668-6868.