Help young people build skills for confronting bullies of any age – including adults

Young people need a menu of strategies – and lots of practice – when it comes to building skills for confronting adults who bully kids.

There’s been a fair amount of recent news coverage about adults who bully kids and the added risks involved when these adults are in positions of authority. Confronting “adult bullies” – such as teachers or other school staff, coaches or youth leaders – can result in additional and on-going negative outcomes for kids. These could include increased humiliation and harassment, receiving unfairly low grades, losing playing time on a sports team or missing out on special club activities.

Having strategies for dealing with these situations in safe ways is important for both young people and the adults who care about them. This includes listening deeply when kids share that they or other young people are being targeted by an “adult bully.” It also involves modeling thoughtful and respectful follow-up with this adult. See “Taking action when adults bully young people” to learn more about strategies adults can use.

In addition, caring adults also have a responsibility to help kids build their own skills for confronting those who carry out hurtful behaviors – including adults. Even young children can benefit from knowing that they have the ability to use their voices in positive ways, and people of all ages – kids and adults – can benefit from lots of opportunities to practice these skills.

As you build these opportunities for kids, stress the following:

  • Remind kids to always put safety first. Speaking up in the moment can sometimes make a situation worse, particularly if it involves an adult authority figure who doesn’t react well to being challenged, regardless of how respectfully it’s done. Always share with kids that you (as one of the caring adults in their life) will take action to address the situation if needed.
  • Encourage kids to avoid reacting out of anger or fear. Using the same kinds of hurtful tactics the adult is using will most likely only worsen a situation. Help them find ways to calm themselves down before responding. If kids decide it’s safe to speak up in response to hurtful adult behaviors, help them practice ways to do so respectfully and constructively.
  • Help them practice responding to real or fictional scenarios by using techniques like “I statements.” For example, a young person who’s witnessing another child being targeted could say, “I know what it feels like to be picked on and I’m concerned about how Tim is being treated.” Encourage them to use “softening statements” which can help adults keep from getting defensive. For example, a young person could open a discussion by saying, “I know that you would never intentionally hurt me and that you want me to do my best. How can we work together in a positive way?”

Having opportunities to practice responding to these situations in constructive ways helps kids (and adults) become conscious, committed and competent in standing up against bullying and other hurtful language and behaviors. Seek out programs and materials these kinds of skill-building activities.

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