A teacher, psychologist, crisis-line supervisor and others share their suggestions for what you can do.
Bullying knows no borders — it occurs in every country in the world — and its impact can last long after the incidents end. For National Bullying Prevention Month, we asked people from the TED community who have firsthand experience of the problem to offer their best advice.
1. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness …
“Don’t think that letting someone else know you’re being bullied or asking them for help is a sign of weakness or that it’s a situation you should be able to handle on your own. Going through it alone isn’t a sign of strength on your part, because that’s what the bully wants. They want your isolation, they want you to feel helpless, and if they think they got you in that position, then they’re often emboldened. That was a mistake I made as a kid. It made things worse. When you don’t reach out, you feel like nobody understands what you’re going through and nobody can help you. Those monologues in your mind start getting louder.”
—Eric Johnson, sixth-grade teacher from Indiana and a TED-Ed Innovative Educator (TEDxYouth@BHS Talk: How do you want to be remembered?)
2. … And telling someone about being bullied is not snitching.
“Often, kids have this fear of what they call snitching. But if you feel significant stress when you come to school, if it’s too hard for you to come into the building, or if you have the fear that someone will bother you by saying something or touching you inappropriately, then you must tell someone. This is not snitching — you’re protecting yourself.”
—Nadia Lopez, principal of Mott Hall Bridges Academy, Brooklyn, New York (TED Talk: Why open a school? To close a prison)
3. Surround yourself with allies.
“Bullies tend not to want to bully someone when that person is in a group, so make sure you’re with friends, people you trust and connect with. Knowing you have defenders around you who will stand up for you can really help.”
— Jen James, founding supervisor of the Crisis Text Line (Watch the TED Talk: How data from a crisis text line is changing lives from Crisis Text Line founder and CEO Nancy Lublin)
4. Try to pity, rather than hate, your bullies.
“I was bullied as a child, and I like to think the experience contributed to my sense of empathy. I want to see people treated with dignity, always. But for those who are being bullied, the key thing for them to remember is that bullying is not a show of strength but a show of weakness on the bully’s part. And if you can pity those who are bullying you — which I know is not so easy to do — then you can defend your inner self from their behavior.”
—Andrew Solomon, professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University Medical Center and author of Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity and The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression (TED Talk: Love, no matter what)
5. It’s possible to triumph over bullies in your own mind.
“Fighting back on the inside can be as important as what happens on the outside. There was a study of 81 adults who were held as political prisoners in East Germany. They were subjected to mental and physical abuse, and decades after release, about two-thirds of the prisoners had struggled or were still struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder; one-third of the prisoners had not. Why? The smaller group had fought back in their own minds. Even though they complied with guards and signed false confessions, they prevailed on the inside in ways no one could see. Secretly, they refused to believe they were defeated, and they imagined that, sooner or later, they’d triumph.”
—Meg Jay, clinical psychologist and associate professor of education at the University of Virginia (TED Talk: Why 30 is not the new 20)
6. Focus on everything that’s great about you; others notice those things, too.
“If you’re being bullied, remind yourself of all the good and beautiful things about you. You, like most of us, are here to make the world a better place. Nobody is liked by everyone, so just because one bully or one group of bullies doesn’t like you doesn’t mean other people don’t see all your amazing qualities.”
–Shameron Filander, sixth grade student and member of a TED-Ed Club in Capetown, South Africa
7. The traits singled out by your bullies are the ones that make you the wonderfully singular person you are.
“Bullies think and think about us to come up with various ways to make us feel down. But whatever reason you’re bullied for, that’s exactly what makes you unique! Do they call you fat? Correct them: you are not fat; you are just easier to see! Do they say you have a big nose? Tell them you breathe better than other people do! Everything about you is unique, like nothing else in the world.”
–Donara Davtyan, college freshman and former member of TUMO TED-Ed Club in Yerevan, Armenia
8. If you’re considering retaliating against your bullies, stop before you act.
“Pause for a moment, and understand that what you’re about to do or about to say can have long-range implications. What you do or say will be how you’re remembered. So think: how do you want to be remembered? As somebody who was kind or mean?”
–Eric Johnson, teacher
9. If you ever witness someone being bullied, show them your support.
“This can be in the moment or afterwards, and it can consist of sending them a text, an anti-bullying emoji, or asking them to sit with you. Stepping into a bullying situation can sometimes be helpful if handled in the right way, but that’s not always right for each situation or each upstander.”
— Monica Lewinsky, social activist (TED Talk: The price of shame)