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 Harness the Tools of Empathy to Prevent Bullying

“Why do people bully?”

Our prevention educators often hear that question in schools, especially when we are teaching students about healthy relationship skills such as empathy, how to recognize strong feelings in themselves and others, coping and communication skills, and how to get help from a trusted adult.

In New Hampshire, according to the Centers for Disease Control, 20% of girls ages 12-18 and 15% of boys reported being bullied at school. The percentages are higher for gay and bisexual teens: 30% of girls and 40% of boys. It harms not just the person being bullied, but also children and youth who engage in these behaviors towards others. Over time, they are at higher risk for ill effects such as depression, substance misuse, and aggressive behaviors.

Bullying behavior is learned behavior. As educators, we might long for a magic wand to end it, but fortunately the true magic already lies within each of us. We can and should demonstrate healthy ways of interacting with others–even people with whom we don’t agree–to set examples for youth.

All adults who have children in their lives can help prevent bullying. Use everyday scenarios as teachable moments: if someone cuts in front of you while driving, model a healthy response (deep breaths, talk through it) instead of an unhealthy one. Help kids understand what bullying is: a pattern of behavior that seeks to make other people feel bad or cause harm to another person.  Knowing what bullying looks like can help children and youth more easily access help if they witness the behavior.

Bystanders can also be impacted by bullying. Per Stopbullying.gov, students who witness it at school experience increased anxiety and depression regardless of whether they supported the person doing the negative behavior, or the person being bullied.

You can have a positive impact as a bystander to stop or prevent bullying and other forms of harassment in schools, online, and in our communities. By including and showing kindness, respect, and empathy for others; speaking up for respect, using humor to lighten up or distract from a situation, or getting help from a trusted adult; you can stop an incident in its tracks.

Turning Points Network strives to end bullying in our schools and communities by teaching positive bystander and healthy relationship skills. Reach out to us and we’ll help you learn how to harness them too.

OUR TURN is a public service series by Turning Points Network (TPN) serving all of Sullivan County with offices in Claremont and Newport. We provide wraparound support for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, stalking, and sex trafficking and we present violence-prevention education programs in our schools. For more than 40 years, TPN has helped people of all ages move from the darkness of abuse toward the light of respect, healing, and hope. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram!

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