What is an upstander? Why is it important to consider when we think about bullying?

An upstander is someone who says “no” to bullying. In virtually all bully-victim situations, there are witnesses who view or know about the act. We want to make sure our kids are part of a community where everyone—kids and grownups alike—makes the decision to be an upstander, rather than a passive bystander who does nothing.

Does being an upstander mean that my child (or I) has to directly confront people when they are acting as a bully?

No! There are lots of moments when a child or an adult may feel too scared to directly talk to a bully. There are other ways that kids and adults can be upstanders. A child, for example can tell a teacher.

One of the important activities that Upstanders/student leaders can become involved with is thinking about what will really help in your school. Depending on how much learning and work your school has done in this area, directly confronting the bully may make matters worse! To learn about what students report, see the Youth Voice Project where over 13,000 teens talk about what works and what doesn’t work.

Is “being an upstander” a new idea?

(We are grateful to Marco Stoffel, Ph.D. who first suggested the term Upstanders to us in 2004.)

No. In many ways this is another word for being socially responsible, and being socially responsible is a foundation for democracy. In the words of our founding fathers, “we are only as strong as our weakest members.” We all have a responsibility to pay attention to others who are in trouble and help. In the world of bully prevention, we believe that the first two people to independently write about this are Ron Slaby, Ph.D. (Educational Development Center and Harvard University) and Stu Twemlow, MD (Menninger Foundation and the Baylor College of Medicine).

How I can talk to my child about being an upstander.

Here are some questions that can help to start this kind of important discussion. If being an upstander is something that you value and want your children to understand and practice, these questions will support this process:

  • Have you ever seen a friend or classmate being bullied? What are possible ways you can respond to the situation? How would each way affect other people involved?
  • How would you like others to react if you were being bullied, targeted or excluded?
  • What music, TV shows and movies promote kindness or upstander behavior?
  • What are your special talents? What are special talents of your friends and classmates? Why is it important to be different and work together?
  • How is upstander behavior similar and/or different from being a hero?
  • When you think about our country’s past, who would you consider upstanders? Who are our country’s current upstanders?
  • When have you been an upstander? What is difficult or scary about being an upstander?