Bystander vs Upstander – Which Will You Be?

Bystander vs Upstander – Which Will You Be?

“In the end we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Martin Luther King Jr.

Every child, in fact every adult has been a bystander at some time.  A bystander is someone who witnesses bullying and doesn’t get involved.  Being a bystander is easy – they aren’t the perpetrator and they are not the one being outwardly harmed or the target of the attack.

Bystanders can take on various roles in the act of bullying:

  • Henchmen – Take an active part but do not plan or start the bullying
  • Active supporters – Cheer on the bully and seek social or material gain
  • Passive supporters – Enjoy the bullying but do not show open support
  • Disengaged Onlookers – Observe and act as if it’s none of my business and may even turn away
  • Potential witnesses – Oppose the bullying and know they ought to help yet do not act

Even though bystanders are not the aggressor, or the main aggressor, their actions and lack of actions have devastating effects on the target of the bully.  The child being harmed feels alone and feels like those not aiding him or her don’t care.

Witnessing bullying is upsetting and affects the bystander too. Statistics say that even though most bystanders don’t like to watch bullying, less than 20% try to stop it.  This happens because they don’t know what to do or there is fear around taking action.  The bystander may be afraid of retaliation or becoming the target of bullying themselves.  There may be worry that getting involved could have negative social consequences.

Bullying stops in less than 10 seconds, 57% of the time when someone intervenes on behalf of the victim. 

So, what can a child do?  It takes courage to be an upstander. Upstanders are kids who do something that prevents or reduces the bullying they see.  An upstander comes to the aid of another child who is being bullied by showing them kindness. Moving from being a bystander to becoming an upstander may not happen overnight. It may start with becoming more aware of the bullying behavior and how it is affecting the lives of the victims.  Upstanders are able to see the pain the target experiences and take action. offers ways to bridge behavior to becoming an upstander:

  • Don’t laugh
  • Don’t encourage the bully in any way
  • Don’t participate
  • Stay at a safe distance and help the target get away
  • Don’t become an “audience” for the bully
  • Reach out in friendship
  • Help the victim in any way you can
  • Support the victim in private
  • If you notice someone being isolated from others, invite them to join you
  • Include the victim in some of your activities
  • Tell an adult

We can model and speak to our children about upstander behavior.  Doing nothing about bullying sends a message to the bully that their behavior is acceptable.

Talk to your children about what it means to be an upstander.  Ask them if they have witnessed bullying.  Brainstorm ideas about how they might engage the next time they see someone in need of an upstander.  When we all feel empowered to take action – even a small one – we build a world of upstanders.

Resiliency and Bullying

Resiliency and Bullying

The New Oxford American Dictionary defines resilience as “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness and the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.”

Resilience and resiliency have become major buzzwords in mental health communities, especially those dealing with children.  I have taken objection to this definition as I feel that it can be incredibly difficult for children who are relentlessly and severely traumatized to simply “recover quickly” and “spring back into shape” after being a victim of bullying.  I meet children who have literally been through hell enduring bullying of all kinds – physical, verbal, relational and cyber.  Asking a child to become resilient feels like blaming the victim and to come back to their original state seems near impossible.

In 2003, authors Henderson and Milstein expanded the definition of resilience as “the capacity to spring back, rebound, successfully adapt in the face of adversity, and develop social and academic competence despite exposure to severe stress…or the stress of today’s world.”  This feels a bit more achievable and encompassing.

Healing, recovery and resiliency are the goals for children we aid in the BRRC Peer Recovery Groups. Our groups enable children to learn from each other, honor their peers, learn skills to help with their recovery, work on service projects, and more than anything to have fun. The ultimate goal is to assist and watch bullied victims heal, recover and move on to a role of an upstander.  The Oxford definition of upstander states, “a person who speaks or acts in support of an individual or cause, particularly someone who intervenes on behalf of a person being attacked or bullied.”  The world needs more upstanders.

I had the opportunity to attend a workshop titled Bullying/Cyberbullying and Resilience.  The presenter, Dr. Ryan Broll, PhD researched this topic extensively by interviewing persons who had experienced bullying in their past.  One fourth of the interviewees experienced long-term consequences from their bullying experiences whereas three-quarters felt like they had experienced some resiliency and recovery from the bullying in their past.

Dr Broll’s research revealed three key findings about resiliency with these young adults.

  • Quality of friendships.  Notice it is quality and not quantity of friendships.  Even one close, intimate, and special friend is capable of aiding a bullying victim on the way to recovery.
  • Parents who listen and support.  Dr Broll expressed that parents who asked open-ended questions of their children, who took the time to listen and ask their children how they feel can and do make a profound impact on the recovery of their children.
  • A teacher who genuinely cares can be life changing.  The teacher who engages and takes a genuine interest in their students can be paramount in helping a child recover and learn to trust others again.

My personal belief is that after experiencing trauma, resiliency and returning to a former state of being is darn near impossible.  The good news is that with a few key people engaged in a victim’s life, recovery is achievable.  A bullied child who has adults and peers who engage and care with them has a much higher probability of moving beyond their experience.  At times, these young people can move beyond their former selves into a state of advocating and helping others.

Will you join me in speaking up and becoming an upstander? Each month we will share stories and strategies that will support you in helping us build a community – no a WORLD – of upstanders. Together we will make being an upstander and intervening the norm.

Thank you for being a part of the solution!


Parents, students accuse Douglas County School District coaches of bullying

Parents, students accuse Douglas County School District coaches of bullying

Author: Michael Konopasek


DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. — On Tuesday, the Douglas County School Board heard allegations that girls in four athletic programs  from three different high schools were bullied by their coaches. Bullying Recovery Resource Center was there and says the families from Douglas County, Chaparral and Rock Canyon high schools have had enough. Read the full story.

Listen With Love: How To Help a Child with Anxiety Prepare for the School Year

By Nora Hood   July 30, 2018

Reposted with permission from Bullying Recovery

“Life is ten percent what you experience and ninety percent how you respond to it.” ~Dorothy M. Neddermeyer

Sometimes, the hardest thing about being a parent is allowing your child to be him or herself. Children don’t always meet our expectations, but that doesn’t mean they should be forced to alter behavior they can’t help or be bullied into changing. That can be difficult for parents of kids who suffer from anxiety, especially when it comes to school.

School anxiety is a common phenomenon in the United States. According to a recent study, more than one in twenty school-age children and teens have anxiety or depression (“More than 1 in 20 US children and teens have anxiety or depression,” 2018). Unfortunately, working around such a problem when it’s time to go back to school in the fall can be a wrenching and heartbreaking ordeal. The problem is so widespread that schools nationwide have been forced to adapt to the situation. As a new school year approaches, here are a few points to consider in dealing with an anxious child.

No shaming

One of the worst things you can do is to shame your child for the way she feels (Åslund, C., et. al., 2007). Her nervousness is an honest and real reaction to a situation that frightens her – she can’t help it. Telling a child to get over it and forcing her into school in front of friends and teachers is far more likely to worsen a difficult situation than to solve anything. Instead, be supportive and try normalizing the way she feels. Assure her that she’s not alone, that many kids feel just like she does and that there’s nothing at all wrong with feeling nervous about going back to school. If your child continues to resist, try taking it one step at a time. Make arrangements for you, your child and a counselor to discuss any issues so that he or she feels more at ease.

Prepare early

If you’re concerned about your child’s return to school, start laying the groundwork during the summer (Csóti, 2003). Give yourself plenty of time to gradually get your child used to the idea, and allow him or her to share any fears and thoughts. Talk through them openly but patiently; don’t invalidate any feelings and make it clear you’ll be with your child every step of the way. A couple weeks before the first day of school, begin putting your child to bed as you would when she’s in school, and have her get up earlier in the morning so she grows re-accustomed to the rhythms and realities of the school year.

Talk about homework schedules for the coming year and begin to ease the transition by discussing how screens and handheld devices will be turned off during homework/study time and arrange a dedicated and organized study space, with all the necessary supplies near to hand. If your child’s school has a back-to-school event, be sure to attend with your child so she can meet her teacher, interact with classmates and get used to the feel of being in school again. Getting kids to do homework can be an ordeal. If you have a child who does better listening to music during homework, consider buying headphones. A good pair can be purchased for under $100.

Make it a positive event

Parents often dread the beginning of a new school year because it means overseeing homework, getting kids up early and preparing them for school, then rushing to get to work on time. Avoid airing these thoughts or acting negatively about school in front of your child. Try treating the first day of school as a time for celebrating an exciting new year (Csóti, 2003). Emphasize that your child will be reunited with old friends and can expect to meet new ones.

Talk about field trips and school fairs, sports and activities she enjoys. Plan a healthy, protein-rich breakfast for the first day so she’s energized and physically ready. Consider an after-school treat to celebrate that she made it through the first day and take the time to talk through the experience. What was she feeling? How did she cope with her fears?

Be open to your child’s fears and willing to discuss any concerns she has about going back to school. Sometimes, talking through issues can have a healing effect, so show that you’ll be supportive rather than demanding and let her know you’re a friend and ally.



Åslund, C., Nilsson, K. W., Starrin, B., & Sjöberg, R. L. (2007). Shaming experiences and the association between adolescent depression and psychosocial risk factors. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry16(5), 298-304. doi:10.1007/s00787-006-0564-1

Csóti, M. (2003). School Phobia, Panic Attacks and Anxiety in Children. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

More than 1 in 20 US children and teens have anxiety or depression. (2018, April 29). Retrieved from

Hiring a Psychotherapist

Hiring a Psychotherapist

As a parent of a child who has suffered dramatically from bullying I knew that he would need help outside of my wheelhouse for him to recover. I loved him and encouraged him and I felt helpless. He had changed dramatically. Our family dynamics changed. Everything was turned upside down. My happy-go-lucky child became morose, introverted and lacked any joy. My husband and I knew he needed to see a therapist.

Therapy can bring up a mixture of feelings for any of us. It can be terrifying for us as parents to admit that something is seriously wrong. We were lucky as we knew of a counselor that we felt would fit the bill for our son’s needs. Indeed she has. Almost two years later after starting therapy our son is recovering. His keen sense of humor is back, he is talkative and finds interest and joy in the world again. This comes from sometimes difficult work with a therapist, a loving home, and an encouraging and supportive new school.

The following are some ideas on how to find and select a therapist from Mary’s Hope Workshops. If you are on the same path as my family has been on and feel that your child would benefit from the help of a trusted counselor, I trust you may glean some valuable ideas from this article.

Dru Ahlborg, Executive Director, BRRC


Selecting a therapist who will be an effective guide as your child learns and integrates new life skills is important. The relationship between a therapist and client is crucial to the successful navigation of the critical and difficult work. Taking time interviewing several therapists will inform you as to the nature of your therapeutic relationship, taking into consideration combined personalities, preferences, experiences, and core beliefs. As a consumer it is your right and responsibility to be informed of your choices and rights. Evaluating prospective therapist credentials, personal style, values, procedures, and fees will help you to make a wise and informed choice.

Talking with several therapists may help you to pursue counseling for your child and with which counselor. Personal feelings of distrust, negativity, or the sense of being told what to do are signs of an improper counselor/client relationships. Simply do not contact or see that therapist again. Explaining to the counselor or a trusted friend reasons for your decision may give you a sense of closure. Feeling as if you have to rationalize your decision is unhealthy. If you or your child is hesitant about a therapist for any reason, you may want to talk with him or her again to clarify some points, or talk about your uncertainty with a trusted friend, or consult with another counselor before deciding. Once your questions are answered satisfactory and you feel comfortable with the information you’ve gathered, it is time to begin the therapeutic process.

When interviewing a prospective therapist, consider the following questions:

  • My child has experienced profound childhood abuse and trauma, what is your experience working with survivors?
  • What are your credentials? What do the acronyms mean?
  • Are you licensed? By whom? If not, what are the circumstances?
  • Are there particular techniques that you use? What are their advantages and disadvantages?
  • Will you discuss the treatment plan with me and my child? What happens if we disagree about our goals?
  • If necessary, will you create a suicide plan if my child has suicidal ideations?
  • Do you adhere to a professional code of ethics? Which one(s)?
  • Have you ever had a charge of unethical conduct brought against you? Under what circumstances?
  • What is your best estimate to treat my child’s particular situation?
  • Do you have continuing professional training and/or supervision?
  • Do you have physical contact with clients? Under what circumstance(s)?
  • Do you think that you might be able to work with my child? If not, who would you recommend?
  • What are your fees for an initial consultation? For phone consultations? Counseling sessions?
  • Do you process insurance? If not, ask what their rationale is for that choice?
  • Consider asking questions that will inform you of their personal values that might coincide or clash with your beliefs. (What is you attitude towards abortion, gays and lesbians, religion and spirituality, non-traditional living arrangements, etc.)

Considerations is evaluating a therapist after initial contact and all sessions:

  • Notice if you feel comfortable while talking to the therapist. Ask you child if he or she feels comfortable talking with the therapist. It is natural to feel anxious when meeting or speaking with a therapist. Despite this normal anxiety you will want to notice if the counselor helps you feel at ease despite the difficulty of talking about deep issues.
  • Do they listen without interrupting? Is your child being heard and understood?
  • What do you and your child’s intuition indicate regarding this person? Do they feel safe or do you feel an underlying judgement or unease?
  • Look for a therapist who is willing to listen and explore issues rather than offering a quick solution. (Avoid those who say “you should,” or “you must.”)
  • Do you and your child feel respected and safe?
  • Are you comfortable with the personality of your child’s therapist?
  • Is the office space comfortable and safe?
  • Did the therapist answer your questions directly or evasively?
  • Did the therapist inspire hope and offer a collaborative treatment plan for your child?
  • Even after several sessions, you may sense that the relationship is not helpful. A competent and professional therapist will understand and be able to help you find another counselor with whom you may be more suited.
  • Remember, counselors are human and imperfect, yet there are some who are more effective than others. Trust you instincts as you go through the counseling.
  • Reciprocal trust, courtesy and respect are characteristic of the therapist/client relationship. Within that relationship the client looks to the therapist for expertise, education, sound judgement, and advocacy. These expectations are achieved by the following clients’s rights and responsibilities:

Client’s Rights include:

  • Having confidentiality within the limits of the law.
  • Being respected throughout the counseling process.
  • Having the freedom to refuse treatment or strategy.
  • Asking questions at any time.
  • Receiving complete information regarding he therapist’s technique and theoretical orientation.
  • Choosing you own lifestyle and having it respected by the counselor.
  • Having appointments on time, taking into account emergencies.
  • Information and collaboration about diagnosis.
  • Consultation/interviewing as many counselors as you choose in order to find a reasonable and helpful therapeutic relationship.
  • Experiencing a safe and comfortable office location that is free from physical, sexual and emotional abuse.
  • Agreement to a written contract of goals and treatment plan.
  • Ability to talk to others about your counseling experience, including other therapists.
  • Periodic and collaborative evaluation of the counseling process.
  • Ending therapy at any time.
  • Ability to disclose or not disclose personal information.
  • Request written reports regarding therapy with your written authorization. (There may be an additional charge.)
  • Accessing documentation within the limits of the law.

Client’s Responsibilities:

  • Honor appointment times by being prompt.
  • If cancellation or rescheduling is necessary, give the therapist a 24 hour notice.
  • Treat the therapist and staff with courtesy and consideration,
  • Treatment is only effective as the client makes it, taking responsibility for completing homework and other assignments.
  • Self-care including adequate rest, nutrition, physical exercise and collaboration and medical personnel.
  • Be truthful regarding current situation.
  • Honor fee and payment arrangements with timely payment.
  • Notify therapist of change of telephone numbers and address.
  • Respect the limitations (legal, professional, and ethical) of the therapist.
  • Understand and appreciate counselor’s legal responsibilities.

David Johns, M. LPC/National Certified Counselor

Mary’s Hope Workshops 2008