Parents, Teach Your Kids to Stand Up, Not Stand By


Earlier this month, I had the chance to speak to educators, parents, and students in Montgomery County, Virginia, and worked with Sharon Zuckerwar, an amazing and passionate crusader for character education and active blogger on all things parenting.  Her message is so spot on, and aligns perfectly with our goals with our new book for teens.  Even though National Bullying Prevention Month is coming to an end, we all know what we need to do….  Her reflections are below:

Last Christmas, the first of my daughter’s eight year old friends got a cell phone as a gift.

While my girl started working on her campaign of ‘She has one, Why can’t I?’, all I could do was shudder.  Because all I could think was: “So it begins.”

Cell phones. Laptops. Phone calls. Texting. Facebook. Messaging.

The parent in me sees the writing on the wall: Constant connection + Constant communication = More opportunities for Cyberbullying.

As an educator and a certified Olweus Bullying Prevention Program Trainer, I teach the four tenants of  bullying prevention.

  1. We will not bully others.
  2. We will try to help those who are being bulled.
  3. We will try to include others who are left out.
  4. When we know someone is being bullied we will tell an adult at school and an adult at home.

But this becomes a little harder when all of this doesn’t end at school or on the playground.

It is harder because it follows our children around everywhere they go, carried with them, in their back pockets.

However, it is somewhat comforting to know that the majority of our children will not be bullied or cyberbullied. Most of our children will not bully or cyberbully others.

But the majority of our children will see it happen. They will watch it take place on their phones and on their computers. They will be witness to mean words and cruelties that have the potential to reach hundreds, but what will feel like thousands, or even millions of people.

So, what do you we do? We teach our children how to take action.

We show them how to stand up, not just stand by. We teach them how to do something.

When I was in the 7th grade, I vividly remember a time that I did nothing.

When I stood by and did and said nothing. When I didn’t engage in action words.

Because I was 13. Because I didn’t know what to do. Because I didn’t have the right words or the right nerve to say those words.

And because I worried so much about what others thought. All the time. Just like every other 13 year old.

I can still remember how she looked at me. I can see her eyes. They weren’t so much pleading for my help.  I think she knew I was in a tough spot, I think she knew that I probably wouldn’t say much. I think that there was a part of her that sympathized, knowing she might just do the same thing.

I remember the look now as one of  … disappointment. I definitely failed her that day. And we both knew it.

I stood by and said nothing while a group of my ‘friends’ teased and excluded her. Again.

Without a doubt she was bullied. Dr. Dan Olweus defines bullying in his book, Bullying at School: What We Know and What We Can Do.  “A person is bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons, and he or she has difficulty defending himself or herself.”

Almost 28 years later, I still tell that story.  And every October, I find myself thinking about it and sharing it more.

While everyone is busy wearing pink ribbons in support of Breast Cancer Awareness, October is also Bullying Prevention month.

I once had a parent call me at work, upset that her son’s school was doing nothing for National Bullying Prevention Day. I told her that every day, every month should be about preventing bullying. But I would be happy to remind them to put up another poster in the hallway.

Here’s the thing. Just like wearing pink or purple doesn’t eradicate cancer. Wearing orange or blue doesn’t stop bullying.

Neither does a STOP BULLYING poster on the wall.

We have to do more.

The answer to bullying prevention is simple:

Be nice. Do nice things. Say nice words. Post nice compliments. Share nice messages.

And stand up to those who don’t.

When I talk about bullying prevention, this is where I believe the power really is.  It is in the work of making good things happen. It is in the work of making nice things happen.

Encourage.  Compliment. Promote. Notice.


We have to teach this. We have to model this. We have to promote this.

We have to empower each other. We have to report to each other. We have to listen to each other.

We have to pay attention.

We have to call the ones who do this; the ones who report; the one who stand up, not just by, what they really are:


Because when we stand up. When we put on our capes and become a force for good.

We can make good things happen.

We can prevent bullying and cyberbullying and promote kindness.

But we have to be brave. We have to get help. We have to tell someone.

And then tell someone again. And again and then tell a different person.

That is what I will teach my daughter, when it is her turn, in a few years, to get a cell phone.

Until then, we will talk about it and practice it and she will learn how to stand up.

Not just stand by.

Let’s all, Go. Do that.


  1. Amazing post, Sameer. I completely agree that simply putting up posters and wearing the appropriate colors will do nothing to actually stop cyberbullying. We need to educate them, make them aware of the consequences of negative actions.

  2. Dr. Hinduja, it was very nice seeing you again at New Hampton School and hearing your message, similar to what is offered above. Please know my AP English students at NHS have published their Wikispace pages and are looking for responses to spread the “good” word on these issues. We are going local, but looking to go beyond.

  3. We have a toxic society, this bullying is not restricted to the school yard, it is throughout our society and often it is the authority attempting to silence the message. The kids get the behavior from their parents and social media is just bringing the consequences to another level.

    On a WTOP forum when I commented about how law enforcement covered up evidence in an incident where they assaulted someone who had submitted to arrest, I was told that I should be “shot at a traffic stop by a cop”. I had used my real name and there was a concern that such an event could occur. When I persisted with the message I was purged by the forum the poster remained.

  4. I agree that we need to do more work with bystanders. I often tell students that the power to stop bullying is in the action of the large number of students who aren’t bullying, not in the handful of teachers demanding it be stopped.

    Also, the message has to be clear that the opposite of bullying is not not bullying. To not bully is to simply do nothing. If we do nothing, we learning nothing, and we promote nothing. The opposite of not bullying is doing good for those around us.

  5. Great post! I believe we, the grown-ups who are parents, aunts/uncles, neighbors, educators, mentors, have the responsibility to lead by example and to teach the kids how to face their fears. Being brave and acting despite your fear is something that many adults have not mastered yet. As a matter of fact, it might be someone’s life long goal. I think we can model for our kids that it’s OK to feel unsure, awkward or scared in a certain situation, but there are ways to get through it. Many real and hypothetical day-to-day situations can be used as “teachable moments”. There are plenty of cyberbullying and bullying case studies online to demonstrate what “bystander effect” is and how it harms the victim AND the witness. Talking about the “bystander effect” can be tied-in to brainstorming the different ways one can respond when one sees another child/teen being bullied or harassed.

  6. As an educator myself I often think about many of the same things you do. I truly believe in being nice, giving compliments and leading by example. Teaching students how to be nice is a curriculum that is not assessed by standardized tests yet it is something we teach and model everyday. We are powerful forces in the lives of students, if we want change to occur we need to be the driving forces behind it.

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