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Bullying and the role of the defender

Posted at 3:20 PM, Sep 02, 2022

We hear a lot about bullying it seems, most often from the perspective of the bully and the victim. But have you ever thought about the potential defender…a peer who may step in and change everything?

“This is a really interesting group of kids,” said Dr. Diana Meter, study author and assistant professor for the Human Development and Family Studies Department at Utah State University. “They are anti-bullying. They don’t want to see it happening and they make it their business to try to help their peers in different ways.”

Meter is sharing what she’s learned after reviewing a multitude of studies on bullying as part of her research. She says the studies highlight the long-lasting, negative effects of bullying.

“It’s not an equal playing field. And there’s now years and years…decades of research that shows that being a victim of peer victimization is problematic.”

And she said, bulling doesn’t only impact the victims.

“It can also be harmful to the aggressors and the bystanders who witness it.”

When asked what parents can do to encourage children to be defenders for others in their time of need, Meter said, “I think one thing we can do to increase self-efficacy, which is the belief in one’s ability to defend, is to role play and talk about situations that kids have seen in school.”

Research shows 57 percent of bullying stops within 10 seconds when a peer intervenes. According to Meter, these defenders are often young women and tend to be empathetic, accountable, and show more self-efficiency.

“I think it’s really important for kids who do defend, to do it safely, and have the skills and support to do it,” said Meter.

Dr. Donna Milavetz, Executive Medical Director for Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Utah said it’s important to keep those lines of communication open with your kids, inquiring about school, extracurricular activities, and time spent online.

“If your ‘Spidey’ senses go off, its really important to know the resources at the school and other available resources that can help your family,” said Milavetz.

Parents should also watch out for physical symptoms like unexplained injury, frequent headache and stomachache, feeling sick or faking illness, change in sleep, nightmares, declining grades, and lack of desire to engage socially.

“There are these more subtle things that we should be paying attention to, so that adults can help intervene,” said Milavetz.

For additional resources and information to help put an end to bullying, visit stopbullying.gov or cyberbullying.org.