‘How to beat the bullies’ must be a well-asked search term on Google and friends. Thousands of kids are affected by bullying every year, and bullying situations can continue to crop up into adulthood.
And yet ‘How to beat the bullies’ has to be one of Google’s more lacklustre search efforts.
The first page of result throws up quite a few helpful-looking sites, such as this one:
You’d expect kids with ADHD, ADD and other learning difficulties to experience more bullying than others, I guess. I have a little cousin who is disabled and autistic, and he and his family suffer a lot.
So you’d want an article written for their benefit to be useful to them, right?
Thing was, I felt dissatisfied with the article.
Three of the five suggestions were basically the same thing: be quick.
Say something smart, sarcastic, or funny. All staple survival kits for any kid at school who stands out.
It was so off-the-cuff and smartly written, expecting kids to come up with some great put-downs somehow. As if they wouldn’t have already tried if they were equipped with a fast-mouth.
I trained myself for years to be sarcastic. I’m not that good at it. I got the tone pretty good, okay? At 38, I still can’t, as an occasional victim, handle bullies coherently.
So not really useful advice. When you’re being bullied, your blood pressure rises, your heart pounds, and the body’s stress responses kick in.
It’s hard to think through that fog of adrenaline.
So what’s the real answer? What authentic list to help beat bullies can someone who isn’t a psychologist come up with?
My victim credentials
I don’t think I’m an obvious victim. I’m confident, out-going, and a fighter. But how the bullies have tried over the years.
I know you’re bully-fodder if you have social problems, hygiene and health problems, disability, or if you stand out from the flock in a way that is viewed by the majority as ‘weird’, ‘creepy’, ‘strange’, or ‘annoying’.
And if you already find a social environment a challenge, you may be less confident, witty, or able to adequately protect yourself.
When I was a kid I didn’t get the same levels of early socialisation as most other kids around me. No TV every other year, no nursery. No Sesame Street (my mum didn’t like it).
I’m grateful for her interventions now, of course (not sure what was wrong with Sesame Street to be honest), but at the time it gave people a weakness to pick on because I often didn’t come up with expected responses in class. And I never knew what was happening in the soaps.
That might sound utterly childish, but I actually had this happen to me at the age of 25, too, when a Production Manager for a TV company saw me laughing at an event from Big Brother recited by one of the staff. She said ‘Did you see the programme, Sakina?’ And when I shook my head, ‘so why are you laughing then?’
Which made me feel this big.
But the staffer had just told the story of what happened. And I wasn’t quick enough to point that out.
I’ve been affected by bullying lots of times in my life – even accidentally been one too, and been the proverbial rescuer as well – but one thing I’ve noticed is I don’t have the same attitude towards the experience that a lot of people do.
I have school friends who were deeply affected by their bullying experiences at school. I shared some of those experiences with bad treatment from the same people, but I wasn’t affected the same.
What makes a bullying victim?
So then on around page 18 of the above Google search I found this document: a US Swimming webinar (random, I know!) advising stewards How to beat bullies.
In its definition of bullying, it included the effects.
I realised one thing from this.
Whether or not someone is classed as being bullied has a lot to do with the effect it has on the victim.
If the victim doesn’t take time off school/work, talks back, has – and even appears to instigate – fights, or is viewed as more obnoxious than the bully, they are not classed as a victim.
That doesn’t mean the bullying isn’t happening.
It means the victim is attempting to solve the problem rather than be a victim. But unless you appear to be a victim, you don’t get the support you need.
Managers don’t support you: “It’s just a personality clash.”
Teachers don’t support you: “It’s six of one and half a dozen of the other.”
What’s the answer?
There is a strategy that can help you leave bullying behind forever.
Empower your bystanders
Avoiding a bullying situation just isn’t possible in the long term. If you know you’re prone to being bullied, you need a self-defence strategy.
The best one I’ve discovered, through years of trial-and-error, was this:
Involve the people around you.
As soon as you get other people involved on your side (crucial point), the bully loses power.
The power balance shifts. Ice breaks. Someone laughs, or says something in support of you, and the bully has nowhere to turn. They certainly can’t continue (unless they’re really stupid), with all those eyes on them.
You can involve and empower your bystanders in a bunch of ways, and all of them are effective.
1. Get a laugh from an onlooker
If you’re quick of wit and have honed your sarcasm better than mine, go for it. It’s better to say something cheeky, rather than rude.
I am not good at this. Too sweary. Remember escalation is not the aim? Using bad language pisses people off, and bullying can be done ever so politely. The chances of the rude victim being cast as the baddie are high.
2. Involve bystanders directly
It’s scary for all parties, but if you put on a show, people will watch. They may as well become part of the act.
Even though you don’t really want to, even though they don’t want you to, the best way in is to ask them a question:
“What would you do if someone said that to you?’ or ‘Can you believe he just told me I look like a ‘ragger’. What do you think?’
Bear in mind, this terrifies bystanders. But they are your only peaceful way out.
3. Make a fuss
Ask the bully about what they have just said or done, and be loud and very polite.
Make lots of very polite noise. Make sure everyone who is nearby can’t help but hear what is going on. Even with their backs turned.
They might have their eyes squeezed tightly shut in the hope they won’t have to become involved, but they can’t close their ears.
See, if other people know what is going on, you can then call on their assistance. If they don’t realise something is happening, they might be slower to catch on, if at all.
If you keep it polite-but-aggrieved, that helps the people around you understand that you are not the bad guy.
A more extreme version of this technique can be applied to extreme situations, such as a physical attack in the street:
Shout at the perpetrator, asking them who they are, that you don’t know them, and to stop whatever it is they are doing.
I practiced this one on a wannabe mugger in Leeds about 10 years ago at about 10:30 at night on a quiet, dark, residential street … and it worked a treat!
The mugger ended up hissing “Shhhh shut uuup, someone’s gonna hear you!”
Making a noisy fuss about what’s happening is embarrassing, awful, and makes everyone want to run away. Including the bullies.
But what’s better, is it enables people who have moral standards – of which there are more than you think – and who believe that fairness is important, to take a stand on your behalf.
All these techniques enable, and empower bystanders.
Now, there’s something wrong with this advice. Let me explain.
What’s the real long-term answer to bullying?
There are a lot of memes around social media that are focused on the rape culture that is so prevalent in the United States and the UK.
Ones like this:
The point is, innocent people minding their own business shouldn’t have to change their own behaviour and their own natural reactions when it isn’t their faults that bullies behave the way they do.
Just like men shouldn’t rape, people shouldn’t bully!
With all the bullies (and rapists!) in the world, you might think it’s impossible to beget a culture change profound enough to enable this, but now here’s the magic:
If every victim of bullying involved bystanders, the bully culture will eventually die out.
It may seem natural for some personalities to pick on apparently weaker ones. Survival of the fittest, so-to-speak.
But that’s precisely why bystander involvement will change the culture completely!
When more and more bullies realise that their behaviour is not supported by anyone, they will tone down their behaviour and change their ways.
See, people are like dogs. When they identify positive experiences around certain behaviours, they are more likely to continue those behaviours.
So if the bully is the one who gets the laugh or involves the onlookers, their behaviour will continue.
But if that doesn’t work as a strategy for them, they will stop doing it. Eventually.
Until then, I recommend continuing with this anti-bullying practice. Let’s hope that your children never have to Google the phrase ‘How to beat the bullies’.
Have you or your child been affected by bullying? What do you think about my theory? Comment below! Also please share. Someone, somewhere, needs this information.
EDIT: To be honest, reading this almost a year later, I’m struck with how trite the tone of the piece. One thing I didn’t make enough of is that every bullying situation is individual — much depends on the personality of the bullied person and the type of bullying taking place. For example, bullying can be insidious, where people say things about a person, or put them in the spotlight in a negative way. It isn’t always someone pushing you around or being outright nasty to you. Perhaps these variances mean there is no definitive answer to bullying, but I for one would like this to be one answer to someone’s problems.