THE BLOG
06/06/2016 03:50 pm ET

Why Are Kids Bystanders Rather Than Upstanders (Offline and Online)? Empathy!

2016-05-30-1464618733-5888372-TeenagerUnself.JPG

Did you know that when a bystander decides to step in on behalf of a peer that is being harassed, 57 percent of the time the bullying is stopped within 10 seconds? Yet in most cases only 19 percent of bystanders will get involved in helping a friend or peer.

Why?

Educational psychologist and renown parenting and bullying prevention expert, Dr. Michele Borba, reveals in her twenty-fourth book, UnSelfie, Why Empathic Kids Succeed In Our All-About-Me World that teens today are 40 percent less empathic than those of thirty years ago and narcissism are increased by 58 percent. She points out that as "empathy wanes, bullying can rise, and tormentors begin to see victims as "objects," not human beings."

The good news is, as Dr. Borba shares, "Empathy is a trait that can be taught and nurtured. And so can moral courage. Empathy and courage are a powerful combo to solve the bullying crisis."

Why are our youth not stepping in and helping each other and becoming Upstanders?

Dr. Borba interviewed over 500 children from around the globe for her book, UnSelfie. She found that bullying is a concern for all kids worldwide, and reasons they don't intervene are similar regardless of region, culture, or demographics.

UnSelfie describes the top six reasons why kids don't step in to help:

Powerless. "I don't know how to make it stop." Most kids don't know how to step in. There is a lack of training and communication from the adult to the students. Kids witness 85 percent of bullying incidents, usually when adults aren't present. So we must educate them on how to step in safely.

Vague expectations. "I wasn't sure if should help." Kids fear they will make things worse, be embarrassed, or get themselves (or others) in trouble. But if they have clear expectations, know adults will support them, and understand what bullying is, they are more likely to help.

Peer pressure. "I don't want to be a snitch." Friends play a big part in our children's lives, and losing social status is a huge kid concern.

The diffusion of responsibility. "Somebody else will help." Bystanders are less likely and slower to intervene if others are present because they assume that someone else will step in, so no else does.

Empathy overarousal. "I felt too bad to help." There's no doubt that bullying can cause severe emotional harm to the bullied, but witnesses also suffer severe psychological and physiological stress.

Weak adult support.
"My mom didn't believe me." Many kids admitted they didn't tell an adult about a bullying incident "because she didn't believe me." Some said the adult downplay the severity: "The Teacher said it wasn't a big deal." Others worried that it might make things worse and they'd be targeted next. Fear of retaliation is a huge concern.

While interviewing hundreds of kids about bullying, Borba heard similar types of comments worldwide:

Columbian kids: "Do other kids in the world hurt like us?"
Military kids of US bases: "Ask teachers to watch us to make us feel safer."
British teens: "There's so bullying that we can't think."
U.S. kids: "No one listens, and we're hurting. Thanks for listening."

We may be from different parts of the globes, but our commonality is that we all hurt and fear the same. Borba contends that empathy is the best antidote to combat peer cruelty. If you can imagine a victim's pain, causing that suffering is a near impossible feat. Empathy also fuels children's moral courage to step in and speak out for each other.

UnSelfie shares the top five things to know about cultivating kids' courage

1. Kids discover their inner hero from the right parenting style, experiences and training. What hinders it? A "too much rescuing" style.

2. Modeling, encouraging, experiencing and acknowledging a child's courage helps instill it.

3. Courage can be strengthened like a muscle, but regular work-outs are crucial for it to become habitual.

4. A child's temperament and physical strength don't determine moral courage: almost every child can be taught how to stand up and speak up to help others if given the right support, encouragement and training.

5. Mobilizing children's courage to be Upstanders may be our best hope to stop peer cruelty, but they must learn how to step in or get help.

Takeaway tips:

• Be sure your school has an Upstander Club and encourage your child to be part of it.

• Help kids learn specific habits like the ones in UnSelfie to help them stand up to injustice. Better yet, join up with like-minded adults so kids learn the same Upstander skills in groups.

• Reading books Upstanders (like Hooway for Wodney Wat, Nobody Knew What to Do, The Bully Blockers Club or Stand Up for Yourself) helps dispel the "Superman Myth" so kids know people can better the world with quiet courageous acts.

2016-05-30-1464618221-8739725-UnSelfie.JPG

CONVERSATIONS