How to Stop Your Son From Being a Bystander to Bullying

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Marie Roker-Jones explains that the real problem of bullying is the bystanders who do nothing to stop it.

Whenever my teen son complains about a situation, I ask him “What are you doing to change it?” It always makes him think about how his actions or lack of action impacts those around him. This is especially true when it comes to bullying.

We can’t turn a blind eye to bullying because it affects us as a world, country, neighborhood and family. It seems like I can’t turn on the news without hearing either about a bullying incident or about a child who has taken his or her life as a result of constant bullying.

Bullying is not new to us as adults, but the forms and tactics kids are using to bully others is foreign to us. We try hard to understand what it is like to be a kid today and hit scares us. We don’t think about how bullying affects a child until it is our child.

I talk to my son constantly about his duty as a human being to speak up and speak out when he sees injustice. It’s very easy to stand back and watch as another child is humiliated, ridiculed and beaten down physically, emotionally and mentally. However, if we don’t teach our kids to intervene and speak up for the bullying victim, we’ll be raising a generation of wimps.

Recently, a boy was bullied on the bus and instead of helping him, the other kids recorded the incident on their phones. What will become of the next generation, if they aren’t empowered enough to help another person? It saddens me to think that our children are lacking compassion and empathy.

It’s time for us as parents to address the real problem of bullying: Bystanders who look away or stay quiet. Is this what we want for our children? If not, we need to help them to make the right decision and tell them that they must “be the change they want to see in the world.”

We have to change their mindset and get them to realize that speaking up is not snitching. We have to earn their trust and confidence to confide in us about bullying situations online and at school. We have to remind them that they are either part of the problem or part of the solution.

What are you telling your son about bullying?



Originally appeared at Raising Great Men


Photo: Flickr/Davidlohr Bueso

About Marie Roker-Jones

Marie Roker-Jones is a wife and mom of two boys. She is a NAMA Certified Anger Management Specialist, Youth Mental Health First Aider, and Certified Male Youth Life Skills Trainer She is the senior editor of the Raising Boy section of The Good Men Project and the Founder of Raising Great Men™ which provides parenting programs and workshops for raising boys and navigating the challenges of military deployments. Marie created #ManYouWantToBe, programs that help boys and young men to "mind up", not man up. Marie is co-founder of #CompassionConvos, #CompassionConvos are cross and inter-generational conversations using social media, online and in person around difficult subjects of bias. Conversations include, and are not limited to racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia. These conversations challenge biases through dialogue and taking action. Follow her on Twitter, LinkedIn, and G+


  1. Megan Sailsbury says:

    I’m a bit disappointed that you exclude girls entirely. Is this because you have no daughters, or because you buy into the stereotype that bullying is a “boys will be boys” thing?

    The bystander effect, like bullying itself, knows no gender.

    • Megan, I originally wrote this post on my website and I write about raising boys. I wrote this from my point of view of what I want to teach my sons. The bullying problem is just as prevalent for girls as boys.

      • Megan Sailsbury says:

        Ah, I see. My apologies for not giving the benefit of the doubt. I had no idea it was crossposted at all.

        Although the misunderstanding does mke me think someone should write a piece on the damaging effects of supposedly-positive stereotypes, like “girls are inherently more compassionate.”

      • Megan Sailsbury says:

        And of course, NOW I see the “Originally Posted” link. Sorry again.

  2. Mostly_123 says:

    Thanks Marie, 

    I could be off base on this, but sometimes I think we can be more apt to help a stranger than an acquaintance: A stranger can be like a blank slate to us- we (hopefully) bring no prejudices to them, and (hopefully) imagine them to be the type of person we want to help and empathize with. In a better world, a good samaritan projects their hopes & aspirations (rather than their fears) onto someone else. Sometimes that’s easier when we know a lot about them, and sometimes it’s easier when we know nothing at all.

    Sometimes (though certainly not always, and certainly not by default) we empathize more with a stranger in a bad spot than with an acquaintance in a bad spot. That doesn’t make the person’s situation any less dire, or any less worthy of help & need of intervention. But sometimes, I think, it might be an impediment to someone taking that first step, and committing themselves to the consequences of being the one (especially the first one) to intervene.    

    I can imagine (and again, I could be wrong), it might be very hard (even off-putting) to put one’s self on the line for someone that they might not even like that very much. There’s a quote from the film version of ‘Gandhi’ where, after an argument, his wife tenderly laments ‘It’s so much harder for the rest of us, who don’t even WANT to be as good as you.’ It is right and proper (and many other healthy things besides) to want to be the good samaritan, but even when we do, we don’t always measure up to our own standards, let alone those of others. If we are to better understand ourselves, (and if we are to change ourselves) I think we need to acknowledge, dispassionately, without judgment, that sometimes we don’t even want to be that good samaritan, whether or not we even can be. When we doubt others, we’re more likely to doubt ourselves too. I’ve never heard anyone say ‘I want to be apathetic’ (apathetic people don’t do that because it takes too much effort to commit it consistently) – Apathy is not a course of action, but it is a consequence of inaction; and sometimes inaction can misdirect & disguise itself as the least undesirable choice. I want a better world and a better life for me & the people who live in it; but sometimes (actually, lots of the time) the cost & the sticker-shock seems like too much to bear. But then remember to (try) to focus paying down the little costs, rather than a big one all at one.                  

    Maybe the answer lies (once more) in remembering the golden rule; and also remembering that the golden rule shouldn’t have a sliding scale, or a ‘not-withstanding’ clause. Laws and rules don’t mean very much if they are not applied impartially, without bias, without reservation, and without favoritism; they don’t benefit us very much if they don’t benefit everybody, and not just the people we like the best – because we’re all better than that. Aspiration (mixed with positive action) after all, seems to be a good antidote for apathy.   

    • Thank you for your comment! In some cases, people are more willing to help a stranger but there’s also what’s know as the Bystander Effect in which people are less likely to help in the presence of others. This may be the problem for some kids. They don’t want to bring attention to themselves or turn the bully against them.

      You’re right about better understanding ourselves and being honest about if we want to be Good Samaritans all the time.

  3. I’m kind of disappointed that from this title I thought this article would include some tips on teaching my son not to be a bystander to bullying. Without adequate tools, I don’t think my son would be brave enough to stand up to bullies on behalf of someone else.

    • Hi Riley,

      The most important way to teach your son not to be a bystander is to find teachable moments to talk about it. Use news stories about bullying to have a conversation about bullying. Kids are always watching us and so making the decision to not be a bystander also sets the example.

      Most bullies need an “audience” for their bullying. The bystanders play an important role in the bullying triangle. If your son does not feel comfortable speaking up, he can also take the approach to not engage or give the bully “attention”. Some bystanders take pictures or video tape bullying incidents. Talking to your son about appropriate behavior when he observes bullying is also important.

      There’s power in numbers. Sometimes kids don’t feel brave enough to speak up by themselves but they will if a group of friends decide to speak up together.

  4. Great post Marie,

    I 100% agree with your position about talking with your kids about being “Human beings”.

    My boys are 20 and 17 and have had the good fortune to travel all over the world with me and they really do understand what it means to be Human Beings on a global stage. It’s so easy to lose touch with that human connection these days. Our voices have so much power when used effectively. When we teach our children how to use their voices as well as practice using their voice I truly believe we are setting them up for success.

    My parenting belief has always been “Is my interaction with my child enhancing his self-esteem or tearing it down” and I have tried to pass on that same belief system in my boys.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Thank you Alan! Your parenting belief is a great legacy to pass down to your sons. Our society tends to focus on raising “happy and successful” kids instead of raising compassionate, caring adults. It is through human interactions that we learn more about ourselves and our world.

      Your sons are fortunate to have the opportunity to travel with you and have father who is conscious of how he interacts with them and others.

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