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!


Year One in the Books

We are officially in our second year of operation at Bullying Recovery Resource Center.  We opened our doors in January of 2018 and obtained our 501 (c)(3) in 2017.  Our work began in earnest in November 2017 after we settled a lawsuit we filed against my son’s former school.  It was time to make lemonade out of lemons, and fertilizer out of poop.  My husband and I moved our efforts into creating a non-profit organization to help bullied children and their families.  Hence, BRRC was born.

We quickly got to work and had the support of many allies we had met up to that point.  My husband and I determined that our buzzwords and the pillars of our organization would be STOP, RECOVER and ASSIST.

  • STOP – It is the responsibility of adults to STOP bullying. BRRC helps parents advocate in schools to get the adults to STOP the bullying.
  • RECOVER – BRRC believes that bullied children can RECOVER and help other bullied children to recover. BRRC hosts peer groups to provide a fun, engaging environment for children to recover and grow.
  • ASSIST – BRRC will ASSIST efforts in anti-bullying and bullying prevention. BRRC will help and work with anti-bullying charities and individuals to promote understanding and unity.

We hosted our first Peer Group and Parent’s Advocacy group February 2018.  Families that we had met on our journey thus far joined us on a Saturday afternoon. The children worked with our Youth Facilitator Phil and talked about resentment and the power of speaking to others. The children got acquainted and learned about each other.  The parents met down the hall in a conference room.  They also got to know each other and share how they were walking through the agony of being parents of a bullied child.  We have learned that the families that find us have been through severe trauma and pain.  We all are in agreement that bullying is not a natural occurrence and it must be STOPPED.

During our first year we participated and did many things to get us going.  Some highlights include:

  • Starting a web-page
  • Setting up a Board of Directors that includes experts in the fields of bullying, finance, and media
  • Applying for grants
  • Designing a logo
  • Becoming a presence on social-media
  • Participating in a teen health-fair
  • Counseling and advocating for over 30 families in Colorado
  • Providing Peer Support Groups on a monthly basis during the school year
  • Partnering with a Denver-based Educational attorney
  • Providing an adult-education class on bullying and how to get schools to stop it
  • Attending several school board meetings to talk about bullying
  • Speak about bullying on “Get IEP Help”
  • Provide legal assistance to obtain a restraining order against a tormentor who was bullying one of our clients
  • Aid in providing Gebser letters and filing complaints with the Department of Education for our clients
  • Provide service projects for our Peer Recovery Groups
  • Meeting and speaking with local and national anti-bullying organizations and experts

We are not a 9:00-5:00 organization.  We have spent many evenings and weekends speaking, educating and counseling with parents who are in need. When we were in their shoes, we had nowhere to turn to.  That was our biggest motivation to start BRRC.

The more we learn about bullying and the families we have the honor of working with, the more we learn how prevalent and corrosive it has become. We have learned that there are adults in schools who want to turn their backs on bullied children, or worse, want to blame the victim for the bullying. We have learned that schools sometimes want to treat bullying as conflict and that can have dire results for the bullied child.  We have also learned that bullied children can grow, recover and prosper after some time, understanding and compassion from caring individuals.

Year two holds many lofty goals and aspirations for our charity. Our desire is to grow and to help more families in need.  We will continue to educate people about bullying and what can be done to STOP it by participating in more schools, charity events and speaking engagements. We plan on partnering with other non-profits to help children in need of mental health and suicide prevention.  We will continue to be a mighty advocate and help families STOP bullying and protect and heal their children.

We need your help.  As we continue to grow we are asking adults to become advocates for our children.  We ask you to tell your friends and families about us and to contact us if they need our help or have questions.  Lastly, we ask that you consider donating to us to help us continue to grow our organization and reach more people who need our help and expertise.  We have learned that it will take a village to make an impact on the problem of bullying. We thank you in advance for your consideration and look forward to continuing to lead the charge to disrupt the bullying cycle.

Dru Ahlborg, Executive Director BRRC


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

Listening and Connecting With Your Child

Your child tells you that he or she are being bullied. They are not alone. PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center (2016) reports that one out of every five students report being bullied during the school year. As a parent of a bullied child it is imperative to understand the importance of listening to your child during this time. Now more than ever it is essential that the adults in this young person’s life have his or her back and well-being in the forefront of their minds.

The following are ideas that are found in “8 Keys to End Bullying, Strategies for Parents and Schools.”

Make it Easy for Kids to Talk About Bullying:

It is important to understand how being bullied can make a young person feel. Bullying victims feel isolated and alone. They experience self-doubt, feel humiliated and ashamed and fear being labeled as tattletales if they speak about their experiences. It is our responsibility as adults to help the child feel safe.

Listening is a skill that requires intention. When a child comes forward and tells you about bullying, listening can form the strong link where you can comfort and aid your child. Good listening involves:
Complete attention and focus, (computers, phones and other distractions are put aside)
Good eye-contact. As the listener, it is our jobs as the supportive adults to maintain eye-contact, not our children.
Open-mindedness. Effective listening involves clearing one’s mind of already drawn conclusions, thoughts and feelings about the event.
Open-ended questions: This can help the child sort through their thoughts and feelings without the listener already drawing their own conclusions.
Support and empathy. I cannot stress this enough. It takes tremendous courage for an adolescent to come forward and talk about their experiences of bullying. Chances are they are in a very painful place by the time they talk with you about it. Listening involves you as the caring adult affirming that the they are strong for reaching out. Making a child feel understood and loved will go a long way in establishing a connection with them.

Listening and solving are different. As adults, we may have a strong urge to immediately solve the problem and become highly emotional. Effective listening is a process in which the adult guides the child to think through the steps needed to improve the situation.

How to Respond to a Child Who Talks About Bullying:

Listening to our child recall incidents of being bullied can be downright agonizing for parents and caregivers. Our minds may race from anger to fear, to legal responsibility, to frustration, to confusion and so on. There are strategies that adults can employ when listening to a bullied child that will be incredibly beneficial.

Remain calm. Remember that this young person has taken a leap of faith to speak to you about what happened to him or her. Stay calm and don’t freak out. This calmness will aid in moving forward and move toward solutions.
Express empathy. Simple, honest and effective responses can let a child know they are being heard and that you understand the pain they are enduring. Something as simple as “I am sorry this is happening to you” lets a child know that being bullied is not a normal part of growing up and that you feel bad they have experienced such cruelty.
Thank the Child. Thanking a child for finding the strength and coming forward about their incidents allows them to feel acknowledged and safe. It takes a tremendous amount of trust for a child to share their burden and thanking them will further build a bond for moving forward.
Encourage Problem Solving. This is when you and the child work together to come up with reasonable strategies and ideas for moving forward. The adult’s job is to continue to support the child, listen to their ongoing thoughts and feelings, and assure them that you will both work together to come up with constructive solutions. A child that has been bullied is apt to feel helpless. The adult’s role is to assist the child in reclaiming feelings of power and control through the process of listening, supporting, affirming and thinking through solutions together.
Follow-up. Follow-up after a conversation about bullying is crucial. A concerned adult needs to check in with the child consistently after the initial conversation to check on their physical and emotional well-being as well as to see how strategies and ideas are working.

A child who has been bullied who knows they have adult support has a better opportunity to move on and heal from their experience. Care, calmness, rational behavior, support and empathy are key elements which can help a child feel cared for and not have them carry their burden by themselves.

How Strong Is the Link Between Bullying and Suicide

How Strong Is the Link Between Bullying and Suicide

The subject of teen suicide can bring up a litany of uncomfortable feelings. For me I feel incredible fear, dismay, and overwhelming sadness. My stomach tightens and tears come to my eyes. I have a child who contemplated suicide. I have a child who came up with a plan. I have a child who attempted to take their life. I have friends and acquaintances whose children have committed suicide. Teen suicide is on the rise, and we know that there is a link between bullying and suicide and suicide ideation.

Suicidal ideation, also known as suicidal thoughts, is thinking about or an unusual preoccupation with suicide. The range of suicidal ideation varies greatly from fleeting thoughts, to extensive thoughts, to detailed planning, role playing (e.g., standing on a chair with a noose), and incomplete attempts, which may be deliberately constructed to not complete or to be discovered, or may be fully intended to result in death, but the individual survives (e.g., in the case of a hanging in which the cord breaks).

*Untreated mental health conditions are among the leading causes of suicide.
*According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide rates for adolescent boys and girls have steadily risen since 2007.
*The suicide rate for girls ages 15-19 has doubled from 2007 to 2015.
*The suicide rate for boys ages 15-19 has increased by 30% over the same time period.

The following article from discusses the link between suicide and bullying, and what parents should be on the lookout for in relation to both of these topics.

How Strong is the Link Between Bullying and Suicide

By Sherri Gordon

Updated January 10, 2018

“There are countless stories about bullied teens taking their own lives. Clearly, there is a link between bullying and suicide. But is it as simple as — bullying causes kids to commit suicide?

Most mental health experts would argue that claiming bullying is the only cause of suicide is much too simplistic. Bullying aggravates depression and increases suicide risk and the seriousness of the issue shouldn’t be minimized.

But, failing to look at the other contributing factors related to suicide is a mistake. Suicide is a complex issue that also is impacted by depression, feelings of hopelessness, lack of self-esteem, family-life issues and more.

Still, because bullying can be a catalyst for suicide, its significance should not be overlooked. When kids who are already at risk for suicide due to depression or other mental health issues are bullied, the results can be disastrous. Even relatively well-adjusted kids that are bullied can become depressed and contemplate suicide. So the possibility of suicide must be considered when a child is bullied.

What Do the Statistics Say?

  • Nearly one-quarter of tenth graders who reported being bullied also reported having made a suicide attempt in the past 12 months, according to a Washington State Healthy Youth Survey.
  • Half of the 12th graders who reported being bullied also reported feeling sad and hopeless almost every day for two weeks in a row, according to the Washington State Healthy Youth Survey.
  • Among 15- to 24-year-olds, suicide is one of the leading causes of death, according to Suicide Awareness Voices for Education. Additionally, 16 percent of students consider suicide; 13 percent create a plan; and 8 percent have made a serious attempt.
  • Cyberbullying caused kids to consider suicide more than traditional bullying according to a study in JAMA Pediatrics.

What Can Parents Do?

Know the signs of bullying. One of the best ways to spot bullying in your children’s lives is watch their moods. If they are suddenly anxious, stressed or indicating that they hate school, take notice. Also pay attention if they say that there’s a lot of drama at school or that they have no friends. Other signs of bullying include complaining of headaches and stomachaches, skipping school, losing possessions and slipping grades.

Know the signs of depression. Symptoms like dropping grades, losing interest in favorite activities, withdrawing socially and sleeping more or less than normal are all signs that a person may be depressed. Unexplained excessive crying also indicates that depression may be a problem. Being excessively angry also can be a sign of depression.

Know the signs of suicide. People who are contemplating suicide may become moody, appear hopeless and experience changes in personality. Sometimes suicidal people will cut off contact with other people and lose interest in activities. Or, they may start to clean out things, throwing or giving away once treasured items. They also might visit old friends and make the rounds to family members. If you notice any signs of suicidal thoughts, you need to question what is going on.

Don’t delay in taking action.

Help your child overcome bullying. One of the best ways to help your child overcome bullying is to make sure your child is comfortable talking with you. You also should make a commitment to help them resolve the issue. Follow up with the school until the issue is addressed. The process of overcoming bullying is long. So you need to be committed to the process. There will be good days and bad days. But make sure your child has access to the resources he needs to talk about his feelings and cope with what is happening. Also, be sure to stay in close contact with school personnel.

Bullying often escalates over time and often doesn’t disappear without consistent intervention.

Have your child assessed and treated for depression. Anytime you suspect that your child is depressed or considering suicide, it is best to have him assessed by his doctor or a mental health professional. Getting treatment for depression is the best option for recovery. Even if you do not think your child is depressed, you may want to talk to healthcare professional. Bullying has significant consequences and if it is ongoing can have a lasting impact.

Don’t ignore threats of suicide. Although not every child will threaten suicide before actually doing it, some do. So take notice anytime someone mentions taking his or her own life. Even if the person threatening suicidehas no intention of following through, this is a very real cry for help and should never be ignored. Allow your child the opportunity to talk with a counselor and avoid leaving him alone for long periods of time.”