Bystander Roles in Bullying

Bystander Roles in Bullying

Bystander Roles in Bullying

“There are no innocent bystanders.” – author William S. Burroughs

The act of bullying is often a complicated expression of the two main characters: the perpetrator(s) and the target. states that bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school age children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. Bullying is the exploitation of that imbalance of power between the aggressor and the target. The reasons why a child may engage in bullying behavior are important to understand, but it is also important to learn about the other children who are witnessing the event. They play a dynamic role in bullying as well and these children are the bystanders.

Bullying occurs for a variety of reasons depending on the child committing the bullying act. In many bullying instances, the perpetrator is motivated by power, high status and visibility. If that is the case, the bully needs bystanders. Bullies are selective as to whom they target and who is present, and this is especially true for the offender who is seeking a higher social status and popularity. Children who engage in becoming a bully will select targets who are less likely to strike back and will also engage in bullying behavior when there are other children available to witness the act (bystanders.)

Bystanders play an important role in bullying for several reasons. First, youth who bully others are often perceived as popular by their classmates especially during adolescence. One study states that youth who engage in aggressive behavior become increasingly popular over time. Secondly, when no child challenges the behavior of bullies, other students come to falsely perceive it as others approving of it. This is called pluralistic ignorance. Lastly, bullies carefully select their targets based on the target appearing submissive or insecure. The perpetrator of bullying will gain the maximum social accolades with peers/bystanders at the same time as reducing their risk of harm or loss of affection from their peers.

Dan Olweus, PhD, is a Swedish-Norwegian psychologist widely regarded as a pioneer of research on bullying. Part of his contribution is the concept of the Bullying Circle which explain the various roles children play when bullying happens. A wonderful graphic adaption of the Bullying Circle is featured below with the permission of Barbara Coloroso, best-selling international author, consultant, speaker and BRRC board member.

Bystanders can engage in various roles and are supporters (even if they are silent) to bullying. There is a price to pay for children who are bystanders as their self-confidence and self-respect can be diminished.

The various bystander roles are:

  • Henchmen – They take an active part in the bullying but do not plan or start the bullying.
  • Active Supporters – These children may encourage the bullying and seek social and material gain.
  • Passive Supporters – Appear to enjoy the bullying however do not show open support.
  • Disengaged Onlookers – Children in this category may turn away and feel like it is none of their business.
  • Potential Witnesses – These students oppose the bullying and know they should help and do not act.

Bullying research states that raising children’s awareness about all the roles in the bullying process can clear the path for moving more children into the upstander and defender role. Social and emotional learning (SEL) can aid in increasing student engagement, understanding and creating empathy. Teachers should have their students reflect on their behaviors when witnessing bullying and facilitate discussions and brainstorm different ways to respond the bullying. Schools and teachers should provide safe and effective strategies to report bullying and support the bullying target. Just as peers can serve to “encourage” bullying, they can also encourage resisting, reporting and aiding children caught in the crossfire of bullying.

Looking at the Bullying Circle, it becomes obvious that we want to assist children to proceed counterclockwise to become the resister, defender or as BRRC labels it, an upstander. The leap from potential witness is much less challenging than from being a henchman or active supporter. Over and over research states that even just one person having the strength to resist the bully and defend the targeted child can stop the bully and provide comfort and compassion to the bullying target.


By Dru Ahlborg
Executive Director
Bullying Recovery Resource Center

Onward and Upward

Onward and Upward


“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

I believe I am not alone when I say that the later part of December holds many thoughts reflecting upon the past year. January seems like a better time to reflect with the holidays behind us, and nevertheless, the December calendar begs us to look back on our journey as well as turn around and look forward. Maybe the chaos of the holiday, family, friends, food and shopping shake things up even more so that quiet reflection becomes an oasis in the midst of the pandemonium.

“How did we get here,” is a thought that I come back to quite often. It was January of 2018 that we officially opened our BRRC office even though we started working with a few families prior to that. January 2023 will mark the beginning of our sixth year. We as an organization are steadfast to our mission, “BRRC defends bullied children and helps rebuild lives.” We have evolved and found our footing as where we can best serve that mission in these last five years.  We empower families to defend their children where the bullying occurs. We preach that it is the adult’s responsibility to STOP bullying and that no child ever deserves to be bullied.

This past year has given BRRC an opportunity to lay more foundation to meet the growing need of our services. Some of the highlights of the past year include:

  • Assisting and empowering a record number of families since January 2022. (Just this last year alone, we have doubled the number of families we have served since we opened our doors!)
  • Outreach and partnering with mental health experts with an emphasis on suicide prevention and trauma.
  • Partnering and educating in the special needs and neurodiverse communities.
  • Assist with updating the Colorado Department of Education’s Model Bullying Policy and assuring that the 2021 passing of Jack and Cait’s lawwould aid bullying targets across the state.
  • Continued to partner with legal resources, when necessary, with the goal of assuring bullying targets a safe education and holding school districts accountable to take appropriate actions to stop bullying and make schools a safe environment for learning.
  • Partner with The Circle app to provide “Parents of Bullied Children” a place to meet other parents and gain support, ideas and hope.
  • We hosted our First Annual Upstander 5K with the support of runners/walkers, volunteers, amazing community partners and generous sponsors!
  • We have invested in updating our advocacy efforts with an online tracking tool to better assist the families we serve.

The BRRC buzzword for this new year is “expansion.” Here are some of the goals we have identified for the next 12 months.

  • Continue our focus on working statewide. Our outreach this last year has included the Colorado Springs area, northern Colorado, the western slope and mountain communities.  Our outreach efforts will continue in the metro area and beyond.
  • BRRC will begin producing and distributing educational videos that will assist any family dealing with bullying.
  • Partner with organizations in the LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC communities to offer our resources and provide education.
  • We will be training and onboarding volunteer advocates to help families across Colorado.
  • Host our bigger and better 2nd Annual Upstander 5K in October 2023.

Looking to help? Here’s how:
As BRRC continues to expand, we are asking for support in several ways:

  • If you know a community or organization that could benefit from the resources BRRC offers and our expertise, please point them to us. We can speak to groups and meet with individuals and offer brochures to be distributed to anyone effected by bullying.
  • If you’re looking to make an end of year contribution, you can help BRRC to the finish line with an investment in The Dodge Family Fund (additional details below.) Your donation will go twice as far!
  • In January and February BRRC will provide details about volunteer positions. We will be training advocates and other volunteers to enable us to offer hope to more families and communities affected by bullying.
  • Plan on becoming an UPSTANDER and participate in our 2nd Annual 5K in October 2023. We are looking for sponsors and community partners to make this event one to not miss!
  • If you know of a family who is dealing with bullying, have them contact us. We can be reached via phone (303) 991-1397, or by filling out information on our BRRC website.

All of us at BRRC wish you peace and kindness this holiday season. We especially wish the families we have assisted some valuable time to nurture, heal and rest. Here’s to a new year of expansion, inclusion, compassion and upstanders.

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

By Dru Ahlborg
Executive Director
Bullying Recovery Resource Center

Giving Thanks

Giving Thanks

Giving Thanks:

Growing and Evolving With Great People on the Journey 

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them.” – John F. Kennedy

This past year has afforded BRRC an opportunity to grow, learn, organize, scramble and to be incredibly grateful. We started our organization with the idea that bullying targets and their families would not need to wade through trauma of bullying alone. I describe us as being an organization that is in the “deep end” of the pool. We are here when the system and the school are not addressing bullying. We jump in with the family and empower them to swim to the side of the pool. The family often feels like they are drowning, and we can offer support, hope, ideas and resources to assure the child is safe.

Gratitude is defined as “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” Indeed, we at BRRC are incredibly grateful for the tribe of people we get to interact and work with. We are deeply thankful to so many that have joined us on some or all of this journey. We couldn’t do it without you!

Clients: We have met the most incredibly brave, powerful and hearty families in our advocacy work with BRRC. The parents we have spoken with are dedicated, loving and generally exhausted by the time they have contacted us. In the past year we have worked one-on-one with over 75 families in Colorado. We are honored to meet such amazing families who don’t give up. You are the life-blood of our organization.

Resources: BRRC uses, provides and recommends resources for our families. We know incredible resources in the legal community, the disability community, the mental health community and the LGBTQ+ community. Our community has taught us so much and has allowed us to better serve the families we assist.

Partners in mental-health, adolescent services, and schools: We have had the opportunity to speak in forums, with mental-health workers, at health-fairs, on podcasts and at schools to educate others about bullying and how to stop it. We host an online forum every other week to speak with “Parents of Bullied Children” on the Circles application. We are grateful to help educate and to become a resource with other partners to help stop bullying.

Volunteers: BRRC is blessed to have volunteers to assist with our advocacy and also with our First Annual 5K this year. Our volunteers come from a variety of backgrounds and have an enormous amount of energy, kindness and compassion.

The BRRC Board of Directors: Our board is tasked with growing our organization and providing assistance to bullying targets across Colorado. We have a wealth of knowledge, experience and passion on our BRRC board.

Corporate sponsors/partners and grants: BRRC has received financial support and donations from a variety of organizations and companies in Colorado. In addition, we have been awarded grants this year from The Kiwanis Foundation, The Autrey Foundation, and The Dodge Family Fund.

Individual contributors and supporters: The BRRC supporters come from all of the previous categories I’ve mentioned, and many others who believe in our mission and our work. We are deeply thankful to those who contribute to us and share our information with others. We could not carry out our work of defending bullied children and rebuilding lives without those who believe in our lifesaving work and are willing to tell others about it and help contribute to our organization.

Thank you does not seem to cover the amount of gratitude we have. Putting a stop to bullying and creating a world with more kindness and inclusivity takes the work of all of us. We are enormously grateful for the assistance and help we have been afforded. We appreciate you!

“Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.” – Eckhart Tolle

By Dru Ahlborg
Executive Director
Bullying Recovery Resource Center

The Story of a Special Needs Client

The Story of a Special Needs Client

The Story of a Special Needs Client 

This month I am going to share with you the story of one of our clients. We first met this young man’s parents via a frantic phone call after we watched a video of horrific physical bullying that was shared on social media. That phone call happened in October 2020. We have been working with the family ever since. 

The young man was 13 years old and was in 8th grade in middle school in October 2020. His favorite thing on the planet is The Denver Broncos. He throughly enjoyed playing football. This adolescent has a genetic condition that qualifies him for special education and related services. He has been on an individualized educational plan (IEP) since 2010. He has been bullied for much of his schooling, and upon entering middle school in 6th grade, the bullying escalated dramatically.

Our client began being targeted for bullying just two days after beginning his 6th grade year in 2018 and it continued and soared up until the last day he attended school in October 2020. In his 6th grade year he endured a black-eye, a concussion, bruises and multiple injuries all due to bullying. He was continually verbally assaulted. Not only did this student report his torments to his mother, the school principal and the school counselor, but his parents did too. His parents were in contact with school administrators over a dozen times that school year to report the bullying of their son. His parents reached out to the school district just one month after school had started and did not receive any response. They also filed a police report in December when their son suffered a black-eye due to physical bullying.

Our client’s 7th grade year was littered with bullying incidents and reports to school administrators. The administrators failed to come up with any solution to protect him while at school. The physical bullying continued and he came home with scratches, a swollen eye and a concussion. He was verbally targeted for his clothing. His headphones were taken and hidden from him. He was threatened and labeled as a “snitch” for reporting the bullying to the school. He was filmed and the video was distributed on social media labeling him as a “retard.”

In the first week of this child’s 8th grade year his phone was taken, he was verbally assaulted and threatened with physical harm. In September, he was assaulted in the gym by a group of kids who had continually harassed him. He was hit on the back of the head several times and had to leave school after he hit the ground and reported having a bad headache and threw up. He had endured another concussion. Upon his mother discussing the incident with a school administrator she was informed that it was “just playing around.” The bullying continued to escalate with increased verbal harassment and being told to kill himself. On October 19, the bullying target was brutally assaulted in the school hallway and it was filmed and later posted on social media. The plaintiff was hit a total of 27 times and his head began to bleed and start to swell. That was his last day of attending his school.

This young man has endured more trauma than most adults I know. The last physical attack left him with a concussion. His face continued to swell over the next two weeks and he lost functioning of his mouth and was unable to talk. He was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy and lives with ramifications of that today. He no longer can play football. The adolescent who attacked him has been to court and received sentencing as a result of the violence he inflicted.

This child, our client, is currently a plaintiff in a lawsuit that has been made against his former school district. The bravery and stamina of this young man and his parents is absolutely amazing. Through advocacy of BRRC, the legal expertise of Igor Raykin of The Colorado Law Team, the family has landed here with a lawsuit. The school failed to take any appropriate action to protect this bullying target. The bullying was left unabated and it escalated to a dramatic and permanent level. Even after the brutal attack, the school failed to take measures to provide a safe environment for him to receive an education he is entitled to. 

To learn more about this, please read the story written by The Daily Sentinel in Grand Junction here. A video news story about this family and the lawsuit is also available courtesy of KKCO in Grand Junction here.

Any bullying is unacceptable, and a school and a district not protecting bullying targets after it has been reported in completely irresponsible and tragic. 

By Dru Ahlborg
Executive Director
Bullying Recovery Resource Center

Gas Lighting

Gas Lighting

Gaslighting and Bullying

“Don’t let someone who did you wrong make you think there’s something wrong with you.” — Trent Shelton

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or group covertly sews the seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgement. It often evokes in them cognitive dissonance and other changes including low self-esteem.  Gaslighting involves a pattern of abusive behaviors with the intent not just to influence someone, but to control them.

As bullying is an exploitation of a power imbalance with the intent to harm, gaslighting is a method the aggressor can choose to bully someone else. These tactics are sometimes difficult to identify, especially in relation to a bully and their target.  Highly successful bullies are crafty at manipulating and can be masters of gaslighting.  Additionally, gaslighting can be employed not only by the bully and their henchmen, but also by school officials who want to deny bullying.

Gaslighting techniques and examples of them are as follows:

Withholding – The abuser feigns a lack of understanding or refuses to listen or share their emotions.  Bullies will use this as negative peer pressure and bait the target into believing they are a friend and asking the target to do things they don’t feel comfortable doing.  The aggressor will refuse to listen to rational thoughts or reason why the target is unwilling to do the act for their friendship.

  • “I’m not going to listen to that.”
  • “You’re trying to confuse me!”

Countering – The bully will call into question the target’s memory in spite of them having remembered it correctly.  Countering also includes blaming or scapegoating. The tormentor will twist the words of the target and can actually change the narrative so that they now become the wronged party.

  • “You said that last time and you were wrong.”
  • “That’s not what happened.”
  • “You remember that wrong.”

Blocking and Diverting – The perpetrator changes the conversation from the subject matter to questioning the target’s thoughts and controlling the conversation.  Many times, the bully will belittle the target, especially in front of others.

  • “Quit complaining.”
  • “Where did you get a dumb idea like that?”
  • “You’re paranoid!”

Trivializing – The bully attempts to make the target believe that his or her thoughts aren’t important.  Name calling and shaming in front of others often occurs as well.

  • “It’s not a big deal!”
  • “You’re a crybaby!”
  • “You’re too sensitive!”

Forgetting and denial – This is when the bully pretends to forget things that really occurred.

  • “You’re making that up.”
  • “I don’t remember that.”
  • “That’s not what happened.”
  • “Where did you get that idea? You’re lying.”

Gaslighting is emotional abuse and can create deep and lasting scars.  It can cause the bullying target to begin to doubt their own thoughts, memories and actions.  Gaslighting left unabated can cause children to feel confused, hopeless, second-guess themselves constantly and have their sense of self-esteem torn down. 

This form of manipulation can ultimately blame the target of bullying for the actual act.  When gaslighting is perfected, especially by a high-status, social bully, the target can be the child who is ultimately punished for being bullied.  A child who has high-status in the school with their peers and also with teachers and administrators can gaslight their target and ultimately have others believing that the bullying was caused by the target, or even worse, that somehow, they deserved to be bullied.

This form of bullying is not just dispensed by children in schools, but also by adult school officials and administrators.  Putting a stop to bullying takes much work, effort, and time.  When schools don’t want the stigma of bullying identified with them or the trouble and work of dealing with it, they will often turn bullying into conflict to avoid issuing effective consequences.  Conflict occurs with two equal parties where bullying always involves in imbalance of power and is dealt with entirely differently. Schools that don’t properly investigate, issue effective consequences and blame the target are in actuality gaslighting the target.  Furthermore, school officials and administration can also do this to families of bullied children as well.  We have witnessed school officials and administration relying on their credentials and experience in lieu of proper investigation and putting a stop to the bullying.

Gaslighting is insidious and was implemented by the children and the school administrators that bullied my son and our family years ago.  Being gaslit by a group of people with more power and status caused almost an entire community to turn on our family.  We are not the only ones.  Many of our families that we have helped over the years through BRRC have been subjected to gaslighting as well.  This type of psychological warfare can further harm the bullied child and tear a family apart. 

Another group who are frequently gaslit are upstanders to bullying.  (An upstander is a person who speaks or acts in support of a person being bullied.)  Upstanders are frequently told that they don’t understand what they witnessed and are making a bid deal out of nothing.  One of the children who defended my son and attempted to report the bullying was later told he was mis-informed and what had happened to my son wasn’t what he thought it was.

Gaslighting can be extinguished and recovered from.  If a target realizes they are being manipulated in this way and that they are not misinformed or crazy, that can begin the healing as the manipulation will no longer have the same effect on them.  It is important to note that bullies who employ gaslighting techniques successfully will likely not change their behavior.  Putting time and distance between the bully and the target will help as well as working on self-esteem and finding a safe, trustworthy adult and friend.  Sometimes professional help is warranted.  When gaslighting has torn away a strong sense of self and brought on feelings of hopelessness and depression, a professional is needed to help rebuild and rebound.

Understanding and realizing that you or your child has been a subject from this form of manipulation by a bully is the first step at getting away from it.  When a child realizes they didn’t deserve to be bullied, and they have been harmed, they are not wrong or crazy then they can begin to heal.  Bullying of children in any form should not be tolerated and needs to be stopped by adults.

By Dru Ahlborg
Executive Director
Bullying Recovery Resource Center

Back to School and How to Support Your Child

Back to School and How to Support Your Child

Back to School and How to Support Your Child

“Don’t try hard. to fit in, and certainly don’t try so hard to be different …just try hard to be you.”  ~Zendaya

Back to school time can bring on many mixed emotions for both students and parents. For many adolescents it can bring excitement, sadness and anger. For parents, the emotions can be quite similar especially if there are concerns about bullying or potential bullying. School should be an environment of learning, acceptance, safety and fun. Unfortunately for many students it can be a place of fear, anxiety and sadness.

As we prepare to send our youth back into the schoolyards and the classrooms there are ideas to keep in mind and discuss with our children about to help them start the school year on a solid footing.

  • Be a role model. Our children are watching whether they are toddlers or in high school. They learn from us and often pick up our behaviors. As caregivers we should be mindful of how we act toward others. This includes peers, other parents, friends, family members, co-workers, interactions in public (including online) and our partners and spouses.

  • Do not tolerate bullying in your family or in your home. Guide and teach siblings positive ways to manage difficult emotions and to not lash out at one another. If your child has challenging and mean interactions with friends while you are with them, interject and aid in resolving the interaction. If need be, separate the children and speak to the other parent.
  • Do not minimize bullying. If your child confides in you about being a bullying target, bullying others or witnessing bullying incidents, take the opportunity to listen with empathy. Do not brush it off. If your child is targeted, take the opportunity to come up with a plan together and let them know they did nothing wrong. If your student is a bystander or engaging in bullying activity educate your child as to how bullying negatively impacts the target and can hinder feelings of self-worth and belonging. Encourage your child to support targets of bullying by not tolerating it, speaking up, reporting it and offering encouragement to the bullying target.
  • Encourage your child to rely upon their friends. Talk to your child about enlisting friends to support one another. Children helping others offers the strongest defense against bullying behavior. Discussing and forming a pact can be a strong support system during the school day.
  • Encourage your child to tell an adult they are being bullied. Statistics tell us that only 20-30% of bullying targets report their abusers. Encourage your child to tell a trusted adult as quickly as possible.

It is also important to consider internet safety and how to deal with cyberbullying as well. It is an incredibly challenging problem and can happen anywhere, anyplace and at anytime. Cyberbullying spreads quickly and has the same negative effects on all involved as any other type of bullying. It should not be tolerated and be addressed quickly. Some advice to also keep in mind in regards to cyberbullying are:

  • Do not punish your child. If your child has been a target of cyberbullying do not threaten to take away their device or cut their online time. Doing this may make them not want to tell you about any bullying that happens in the future.
  • If there is online evidence, save it as screenshots. This becomes incredibly helpful if it is necessary to report the event.
  • Talk to your child about the experience and take the time to listen. Studies prove that having just one person listen and support a child who has been bullied helps them better handle the event in a healthy way.
  • Report the cyberbullying. Most social media platforms have a process for reporting bad behavior. If the cyberbullying involves a classmate, report it to the school. If the bullying involves threats of physical harm, consider reporting it to the police.
  • Take quick action. Whether your child is the target, a bystander or the perpetrator of cyberbullying, quick action should be taken. Bullying in any form is never okay. It is an opportunity talk about empathy and the harm caused by bullying. Discuss it with school officials or a counselor to gain additional help and ideas.

Taking the time to partner with our children during this time of transition is key. An open dialogue about new routines and expectations is always a good idea.  Stress and anxiety are common. Let your child know you are there to help them succeed and will be available when they feel anxious or need help.

If your child is being bullied and the school isn’t helping, please contact BRRC. We can help.

By Dru Ahlborg
Executive Director
Bullying Recovery Resource Center