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Bullying doesn't just involve the bully and their victim — it impacts entire communities. Bystanders have the best chance of intervening, so how can we take powerful steps to end bullying?

Bullying noun

bul·​ly·​ing | \ ˈbu̇-lē-iŋ

abuse and mistreatment of someone vulnerable by someone stronger, more powerful, etc. the actions and behavior of a bully

Twenty-eight percent of US kids suffer bullying while they are attending grades six through 12. 

Twenty percent of teenagers in grades nine to 12 experience bullying at some point.

In schools, the hallways and stairways are the most common sites where bullying takes place, at 43.4 percent. Bullying also unfolds outdoors but on school property, in locker rooms, and even in classrooms, right under teachers' noses. The fact that bullying can happen outside of school as well is nothing new, but in the 21st century, that's no longer confined to the school bus, the walk home, or sports clubs. Today, 15 percent of bullying victims essentially report that nowhere is safe from bullies — thanks to the advent of the smartphone, their bullies can electronically follow them into the bathroom, into bed, and on their own online pages. 

People who were bullied as adults are more likely to have poor mental and physical health outcomes, as well as to live in poverty, than those who were not.

Those people who think that bullying is a childhood phenomenon have simply been lucky, meanwhile, as one in three adults has experienced some form of workplace bullying. The COVID-19 pandemic and its associated remote working hasn't stopped the problem either, as an even higher rate (over 43 percent) of workers reports that they've fallen victim to online bullying.

What does that info dump mean to you?

If you have never been bullied yourself, or the kind of bullying you experience was fairly mild and you had the support and confidence to make it stop and feel empowered, these statistics may just be that, to you. A bunch of numbers. For the high number of people who have been bullied, sometimes systematically and over the course of many years, however, even these numbers can cause pain. 

They're a reminder, after all, that none of the many bullying prevention programs that have been put in place over the last couple of decades have done much to stop bullying in its tracks. 

Maybe we're handling it all wrong?

Maybe bullying is as strong as ever because the focus is in the wrong place? Conventional bullying programs tend to center around the perpetrator and the victim. If we all placed a higher priority on kindness, compassion, acceptance, and the inclusion of those who are different from us, these shocking bullying rates could at least be brought down significantly?

Bullying is a society-wide problem that starts in childhood and persists throughout our adult lives. It's up to all of us to fix that. Preventing and stopping bullying isn't up to victims and mediators. We all have the power to do something. Here's how.

Be kind and welcoming

Whether you're 12 or 42 years old, you have the power to help create a pleasant and welcoming environment for everyone you encounter. It can be simple. Even if that new kid in class, or that new neighbor, is clearly very different from you and you have trouble relating to them, be kind. Say hi. Try to learn more about them. Offer to help, if you see an opportunity. 

Modeling respect and compassion does two things. You'll contribute to a world in which being nice is the norm, and you'll also help someone who may be suffering from bullying to find comfort as they realize there are kind people in the world. 

Promote diversity

Humans tend to pick on those who are different from them, and who seem like easy targets. Teachers, parents, children, and workers can all help promote understanding in their communities, schools, and workplaces by teaching about diversity. Learning about disabilities, different gender identities, different religions, and the other differences that make us each unique helps to humanize the people who have those differences. Humanizing people makes it harder to bully them. 

Reach out to bullies

Nobody likes to be called out in public; this forces them to go on the defensive and often to escalate the situation. If you see someone engaging in bullying behaviors for the first time, reach out in private. Explain why what they did was wrong, and ask them to stop. This can sometimes have a profound impact. 

Defend victims

If the bullying you witness is severe or ongoing, on the other hand, it may be time to call the bully out in public. Bullying is often allowed to go on because bystanders let it. Being challenged by peers can have a deeper impact than being challenged by authority figures. In that case, the bullying may simply continue once the authority figure isn't present. Standing up lets bullies know that their behavior has social consequences. It also makes the victim feel better.

Befriend victims

Or, after witnessing an incident of bullying, simply be nice to them. Sit with them, ask if they need anything, invite them to eat with you. Whatever kindness you show, it lets the bullying victim know that they are not alone. 

Taking steps to stop a bully can be frightening, as there may be consequences for the "activist" as well. These scientifically-proven ways to reduce bullying are the best we've got, however. If you see something, do something. Don't let the bullying continue without doing anything about it. 

Participating in bullying prevention can have many rewards. You may befriend new people, and you will definitely help make the world a better place.

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