Bullying is never fun or funny, especially when it’s happening to a friend. It might be hard to see someone you care about being belittled or feeling helpless. But there are things you can do to help a friend who is being bullied that are safe and won’t make you uncomfortable.
1. Let Your Friend Know You Care
Your friend might be scared to talk about what’s happening or feel ashamed about being bullied. This can make them hide what’s going on and feel alone. Letting them know you’re in their corner can make a huge difference and make them feel supported. Talk to them and let them know you care. You can even make arrangements to be with them in situations where the bullying typically happens. For example, you can walk with them in-between classes or eat lunch with them.
2. Talk to a Trusted Adult
Going to an adult you trust, like your parent, a teacher, a coach, or a counselor, is a great idea – especially if you are not comfortable or don’t feel safe standing up to the bully directly. They can help stop the bullying by dealing with the bullies or talking to the principal or the bully’s parents without the bully ever learning how they learned about it. They can also give you advice on how you and your friend can handle the situation.
3. Stand Up to the Bully
You can stand up to the person bullying your friend in many ways, some without directly confronting them if you’re uncomfortable doing so. You can stand up to them by:
- Talking to the bully. It might be surprising to read this, but bullies are often in pain too. People who bully others are often insecure and feel powerless themselves. They bully to look and feel strong. Confronting a bully can help you and them understand why they are bullying and how they can fix it. Maybe they also need to be listened to so they don’t feel alone. When talking to them about their bullying, be firm and tell them that it is not funny, cool, or acceptable. They might not want to acknowledge what they’re doing in front of you but may understand and re-examine their actions privately.
- Using humor. When the bully harasses your friend or makes a joke about them, say something funny and redirect the conversation. When the bully gets the opposite reaction of what they expected, they will be less motivated to keep up their bad behavior.
Ignoring them. Instead of acknowledging what the bully has said to your friend, encourage your friend to ignore them. Ignore the bully with them! You and your friend can act like the bully isn’t there and what they say isn’t being heard. Bullies often want attention, so they are hoping that your friend and others will respond. Ignoring them will often make them stop.
4. Shift the Focus Away from the Bullying
When bullying happens, people around usually freeze and wait to see what will happen next. Or, they might laugh and maybe even encourage the bullying. Instead of watching, you can determine what will happen next and redirect everyone toward something positive. Change the subject or create a distraction and include your friend in a positive way. You can shift the bullying by:
- Saying things like, “This is too much drama for a Monday,” or “Anyway, the bell is about to ring. Let’s go.”
- Compliment your friend being bullied. For example, if the bully is attacking the physical appearance of your friend, like their face, you can say something like, “I actually really love your _____!”
- Start a conversation with your friend. You can shift the energy by engaging in a conversation about anything unrelated to the bully.
- If you’re struggling to find something to say or don’t feel comfortable speaking, create a distraction. Drop your books, spill a water bottle, set a timer, or scream and say there’s a bug or rat. Diversions break the tension and take the attention away from the bully.
5. Spend Time with Your Friend
When you are able, hang out with your friend. You can eat lunch together, go to the movies on the weekend, or do homework together after school. Having people who care about them can help take their mind off the bullying. Remind your friend that they are loved, they are not alone, and they matter.
Being there for your friend being bullied can take control away from the bully. By helping them, you can make a huge difference.
For more information about bullying, check out these resources:
- Ask Your Relative – My friend keeps getting bullied by some kids. I want to help but I ‘don’t want to get beat up.
- Be More Than a Bystander
- Decide How to Help
- Notice the Event
- Dealing with Bullying
Author: Stephanie Paz is a Tigua Indian of Ysleta del Sur Pueblo. She has a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from The University of Texas at El Paso and is working towards a Master of Public Health in Health Behavior and Health Promotion from New Mexico State University.