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Victims, Bullies, and Bystanders

Jane Tuttle
Lawrence KS USA
Report from 2001 LLLI Conference
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 18 No. 5, September-October 2001, p. 175

Marjorie Kostelnik, PhD, dean at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, said that bullying is serious and should not be discounted. Victims remember bullying for a very long time. Dr. Kostelnik defined bullying as an aggressive act that causes physical or emotional harm to another person or that damages property, and includes an imbalance of power.

Kostelnik became interested in bullying when she saw how ineffectively parents and teachers around her dealt with this behavior. Her practical approach is based upon her personal experiences as an educator as well as her years of research in the field of child development.

Bullying involves three parties: the bully, the victim, and the onlooker or bystander. Most victims are passive often physically weak or small, timid, with few friends. Other victims may be provocative-their behavior annoys others, perhaps because they lack social skills.

Victims, bullies, and bystanders must all be involved in ending bullying. Kosteinik suggested these four guidelines for building a sense of community and changing behaviors, in groups of children.

  • We will not bully other people.
  • We will help children who are being bullied.
  • We will include children who are being left out.
  • We will report bullying when we see it.

Doing something about bullying is important. When adults do nothing about bullying, children believe that adults do not care about them or worse, that the adult approves of the aggressive behavior. Doing something, even when the bystanders don't know what to do, is important for all three parties of the bullying (the bully, the victim, and the bystander). Bystanders can do many things when they intervene: they can comfort the victim, distract the.. bully, support the victim's rights, and/or use humor. As adults work with bullies and victims, they should teach children verbal assertiveness to help them find the words to express what they want.

Making sure that children understand what we are asking them to do in response to bullying is important. Dr. Kostelnik illustrated this by giving the audience a simple command in French. Most of the people there just stared at her. She then repeated the sentence more loudly, more slowly, and even had the audience repeat it to her. By this time people were laughing. But no matter how she said the phrase, anyone who didn't understand French still didn't know what to do. She asked, "How often do we as parents do this to our children?"

Children need to know that telling an adult about bullying is not the same as tattling. The phrase she used was "bullying is like blood." If someone is bleeding, children know they need to get help from an adult. Bullying does not need to draw blood to cause serious harm. Dr. Kostelnik offered Conference attendees much food for thought.

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