Standing up to bullies

By Tonya Graser Smith

Today is National Stop Bullying Day.

Back in my day, growing up in late 1980s and 1990s, bullying was viewed differently. Those who were bullied were encouraged to be tough, settle matters themselves, not to be a wuss or crybaby. That’s if they even made it known that they were being bullied. Many, myself included, kept our encounters with bullies – mine on the bus in middle school – quietly to ourselves. My parents didn’t understand why suddenly I didn’t want to ride the bus.

Our culture and schools back then didn’t really adopt anti-bullying as a cause until the late 1990s. Thank goodness times have changed.

We are more aware of bullying and all the many forms it takes, including physical, verbal, in person, online and more. There’s even an excellent government website – – for parents, children and educators. This sentence stood out to me: “When adults respond quickly and consistently to bullying behavior, they send the message that it is not acceptable. Research shows this can stop bullying behavior over time.”

Certainly, children should be encouraged to stand up for themselves. But parents, teachers and other adults should stand up with them. I encourage parents and children to talk openly about bullying and its many forms as well as how to address it. After all, bullying doesn’t go away as children grow up. There’s bullying at work and bullying in personal relationships. Learning to stand up for yourself is a lifelong process. And there is a confidence that builds in standing up to bullies. That confidence will serve our kids well throughout their lives.

It’s important for parents – and, of course, that includes co-parents – to be united in their support of their children against bullying. In the case parents who aren’t married and don’t see their children every day, it’s important to communicate with the other parent if you see signs of bullying like frequent stomach aches, troubled sleep or sudden emotional outbursts.

What if your kid is the bully? If you receive a call from a teacher or fellow parent alleging bullying by your child, I encourage you to keep an open mind and really listen. Children make mistakes. It’s part of growing up. If indeed your child has bullied peers, it’s important that you let your child know you will always love them, but they need to own their actions by making amends, turning their behavior around and making better choices.

It reminds me of a card I keep in my desk from first job out of college when I was advising Delta Gamma chapters across the country. “If you don’t confront it, you condone it.” Let’s make sure we as parents are confronting bullying, giving our kids the tools to do the same, and hopefully over time this can put a stop to bullying behavior.

If you don’t confront it, you condone it.