A new study from Britain sheds light on an aspect of bullying not often discussed. The impact on the bystander.
According to the study, "Watching their peers get bullied puts adolescents at risk for psychological problems and substance abuse even if they're not victims or perpetrators."
The research revealed that students who simply witnessed bullying were more likely to experience a bunch of bad things: "feelings of inferiority, depression, anxiety, paranoia, and "somatization" or physical manifestations of stress such as stomach aches." (And by the way, I learned a new word -- somatization. I think I've actually had that myself and didn't know it.)
But seriously, I was actually a bit relieved to read these findings because kids, and adults for that matter, must have some reaction to a mean-spirited environment. Being around mean can make you sick or want to escape. It's the same for adults who are in a work environment where people are mistreated. Makes perfect sense.
What do we do with this information? Start building a bigger case for money to be invested to help schools tackle the problem. A study like this is further confirmation that bullying affects a much wider group than the people directly involved. In reality, every single person can be a bystander.
And as parents, be aware. When a child, no matter what age, relates a story to you about how mean someone is to another in school, don't blow it off because you're relieved your child isn't the bully or the victim. It may really be bothering them. They may be thinking they're next or they're weak because they don't feel they can help.
Next, give them assurance that they can stick up for someone without putting themselves in harms way. Telling a parent is the first step. As the trusted person, show interest but don't betray their trust by gossiping about it. If necessary, mention it to the teacher or principal yourself. Follow up by asking your child if the bullying is continuing.
Let them talk. Really listen. Tell them you're proud of them for having empathy. Let them know you're on their side in case they're afraid the bullying might happen to them.
Be the safety net.