Bullying is a major issue (and one of parents' biggest fears) kids of all ages can face. Physical, verbal, and emotional assault can now happen online, too. Bullying isn't only a concern among older kids as well; reports now show that it can also happen in preschool. (You can read about signs to find out if your child is being bullied here and ways on how to empower him. If your child is the bully, read on how you can address the issue here.)
If there’s one thing that’s not getting enough attention, however, is how to encourage other students who witness the bullying to stand up for the bully's victim. Studies show that most kids assist and reinforce the bully, most likely because of fear. If they're not actively assisting the bully, they are silently ignoring the act.
That's unfortunate given that bystanders can offer so much help to victims, according to this study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Researchers from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) had looked at Finland’s nationwide anti-bullying program called KiVa (short of "kiusaamista vastaan," which means "against bullying"). It not only offers teachers and parents what they can do to fight bullying, but also gives bystander student what to do in case they see a fellow student being bullied.
"Typically, we think individuals with mental health needs must be addressed individually. The beauty here is that this school-wide program is very effective for the children who most need support," Jaana Juvonen, a professor of psychology at UCLA and who has done research in bullying for more than 20 years, said in a press statement.
KiVa's program makes use of what kids today love to do--go online and play video games. One of the games works like a choose-your-own-adventure game.
"For instance, they might witness a bullying incident and they have to decide what to do; whether to defend the victim or do something else," Johanna Alanen, KiVa's International project manager, told Upworthy.
In the virtual simulation, the kids are given different options on how to defend a victim, which leads to different situations. The kids can use the game to practice how to be nice to their fellow students. The students are also given advice and feedback about what to say to someone who has been bullied--and this helps them learn how to empathize more and be more supportive of bullying victims.
Juvonen says their findings show that the Finnish program is working. Students who are repeated victims of bullying show improved perception of their school environment, as well as in their mental health. Kids enjoy going to school more and are less depressed, which could lead to better academic performance and social relationship.
For a country that has one of the most successful education systems in the world, local school administrators can take a leaf from their anti-bullying program. So, how can you help a child who witnesses bullying? Here are some talking points to discuss with your child:
Ask your child how she feels when she sees someone being bullied. Empathy goes a long way and be a call to action.
Discuss the different types of bullying, that it can also happen online, through hurtful words, or even isolation.
Suggest that your child tallk to his friends about bullying. What could they do together as a group to stop it? Being with a group boosts confidence.
Encourage your child to take a stand. Tell him that the act of bullying can be stopped quicker if calls the bully out.
Tell your child to tell an adult, a teacher or a parent about the incident. It’s way better than ignoring the incident.
Bullying does not occur in a social vacuum, and the KiVa program recognizes that lack of intervention by other students can lead to indifference. With this premise, the program helps build a shared atmosphere of awareness, intervention, and responsibility; thus creating a safe environment where students both the victim and those who defend him. We truly need to empower all kids against bullying, not just the victims.
Read more about the KiVa program here, or watch an introduction to the program here.