Tips to reduce bullying by encouraging empathy

Bullying is a more preva- lent issue than many parents think. Research shows that at some point, it is highly likely that youth will be exposed to bullying as a bystander and have an opportunity to inter- vene. The following article from Maggie Lawrence, News Unit Manager for Alabama Cooperative Extension System, goes over some ways for parents to talk to their children about bullying and how to encourage behaviors that youth can use to inter- vene:

Parents might feel bullying does not affect their families if their child is not a victim or the bully. But an Alabama Cooperative Extension family and child development spe- cialist said that young people who are present when bully-

ing happens contribute to these negative behaviors, whether they intend to or not.

“Research shows that bystanders are present in 80 percent of bullying inci- dents,” said Adrienne Duke. “While most young people will say they are against bul- lying behavior, they tend to act in ways that can actually encourage it.”

Duke, who is also an Auburn Universityassociate professor in Human Development and Family Studies, said that bystanders fall into several specific groups.

“First, there are assistants who help attack the victim, but there are other bystander types that cause hurt in other ways," she said. "Reinforcers encourage the act by laugh-

ing, cheering or recording it on their phones and sharing on social media, while out- siders see the situation but do nothing to stop it."

“Finally, there are defend- ers who act in ways to stop the bullying and to comfort the victim,” Duke said.

She said it is also not uncommon for youth to ignore victims and appear more like the bullies in order to fit in with their peer group.

Duke acknowledges that while it may be challenging for youth to feel willing and able to defend those being bul- lied, having both empathy and confidence in success can increase the likelihood that they will help.

She said it is important that all youth develop empa- thy towards others who are being harmed.

Duke offers suggestions for parents and other adults working with children and teens.

Encouraging Empathy

Model empathy. If you observe someone in distress when they are around, talk with your teen about how that person must feel.

Help youth to discover what they have in common with other people. People tend

to feel greater empathy for others they feel is like them in some way. Help youth to see similarities between them- selves and others, even across differences.

Teach youth that being kind is who they are at the core. The practice of telling youth that the reason they are kind, helpful, and care about others is because it is their nature is a powerful way to increase empathy.

Building Confidence

Adults can also inspire children to become defenders by guiding them to believe it is important to help someone in need. This can help them leave their comfort zone and increase the likelihood that they will defend a victim or report a bullying incident.

Adults need to help youth

create a plan for defending others. Start with a plan that does not involve direct con- flict.

Talk to victims after they have been bullied and make sure they are OK.

Tell victims that you do not agree with what happened to them and that it is wrong.

Go with victims to tell an adult what has happened.

“Adults must understand that bystanders are contribut- ing factors in bullying,” said Duke. “To reduce bullying, it is vital that adults help every- one involved and not focus solely on the victim and the bully.”

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