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Be More Than a Bystander

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Bullying statistics are staggering. One in six students reported either being the victim of bullying or witnessed others being bullied.1 Bullying can occur at school, online, at home, through their cell phones and in their towns, making it one of the most prevalent forms of violence young people face in the U.S. The effects of bullying are far‐reaching and have sobering consequences. Kids who are bullied are more likely to: have increased use of tobacco, alcohol, or other drugs; have increased mental health problems, including depression and anxiety; and miss or skip school.

Today is World Bullying Day and Johnson & Johnson is committed to help raise awareness about the seriousness of bullying and encourage parents to talk with their children about steps they can take to safely be more than a bystander in a bullying situation.

We asked Tamra Cross-Khalaj, a Johnson & Johnson employee, to share her recent experience about how she learned to be more than a bystander from her young daughter.

“Watch me, Mom!” called my six year old, on her tip-toes stretching as high as she possibly could to reach the playground zip line with her fingertips.

She got her grip and then flung herself across, sailing over the sea of woodchips, legs swinging and pony tail flying.

“Woo-hooo!” she shrieked as she landed safely on the other side. It was a rare moment of relaxation for me, sitting in the sun on the bench and enjoying the chance to watch my daughter Nadia and her five year old friend Luke jump, climb, chase and slide.

The playground wasn’t too busy that day, and two older boys playing a bit rougher than I liked had caught my eye. They clearly wanted the other kids to know who was boss. Being several inches taller and a few years older, they obviously were in charge.

The two began talking to Luke, standing on the wood chips. I couldn’t hear the bigger boys, but I could hear Luke introducing himself and trying to be friendly. They kept talking, two facing one, and soon Luke had his back against the climbing wall in a corner of the play area.

I began to feel uncomfortable, but could see that Luke was still smiling and chatting. The boys began throwing pretend punches, stopping short of hitting him, and then laughing. I moved to the edge of the bench watching intently for any sign that Luke was distressed.

At that exact moment my daughter appeared at the top of the wall, hands on her hips, eyes scowling. She leaned over and in the loudest six-year-old voice she could muster, yelled, “HEY! You leave my friend ALONE!”

For a fraction of a second the two just stood and stared. Then they ran away. Nadia and Luke smiled, and then headed over towards the slide, laughing again. I was amazed at what had just happened.

I had hesitated to intervene. I wasn’t sure if it wasn’t necessary. I wasn’t sure if Luke had actually felt threatened. I wondered if I would have a conflict with another parent at the park if I had stepped in.

But my daughter hadn’t hesitated or wondered at all. She knew immediately that what she was seeing was wrong and she was bold enough to do something about it.

She’d been learning about how to handle bullying throughout kindergarten from her teacher, the guidance counselor, and even a special children’s leadership program run by the town.

I’d always done my best to reinforce these messages at home, too, taking advantage of her stories from school or her playtime with neighbors to help her recognize what was mean and unfair. But I was never sure if she was really hearing us. Was the message actually getting through? She’d listen for a bit, and then bounce up and away, off to her next bike ride or wooden block tower.

Now I know she was listening. She was listening to me, to her school – to all of us sharing the anti-bullying message. The lessons we offer and the encouragement we provide make a difference. So keep talking, keep sharing, keep teaching.

And maybe someday I will learn, too – to be as brave as my six year old daughter was.

1 STOMP Out Bullying: Abut Bullying and Cyberbullying

For more information on how to get involved in your community and in teaching your children, please visit Stomp Out Bullying and download our toolkit designed especially for parents.

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