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How to Stand Up to Bullies

Jennifer Lawrence, Justin Timberlake, Taylor Swift, Robert Patterson, Miley Cyrus, Marshall Mathers (Eminem), and Lady Gaga share more than celebrity status. They know what it’s like to be bullied.

“Girls can be mean,” said Jennifer Lawrence. “A popular girl once gave me invitations to hand out to her birthday party – a party I wasn’t invited to.”

“I grew up in Tennessee,” explained Justin Timberlake. “If you didn’t play football, you were a sissy. I got slurs all the time because I was in music and art.”

“Some of the girls in my school were big and tough. I was scrawny and short,” admitted Miley Cyrus. “They shoved me in the school bathroom where I was trapped. I banged on the door until my fists hurt. Nobody came. I waited for someone to rescue me. I wondered how my life got so messed up.”

Rather than giving the past the power to control them, each one of them carved out a new course. As artists and anti-bullying activists, they encourage others, particularly young people, to speak out against bullying.

Memories of bullying are often internalized and become part of the tape many victims play in their own heads. Without a means of defense to protect themselves, those who have been bullied often experience depression, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, and fear. Many children who are bullied carry those unresolved issues with them into adulthood.

I did not have the skills to protect myself from bullying. I attended Catholic schools when I was growing up. “Turn the other cheek” and “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” were ingrained into my character. When I was insulted and bullied by others – particularly by those I most admired – I sank into a world of silence. I withdrew from the world.

I saved money and enrolled at a college far from home where I could reinvent myself.

However, I carried the voices of insults and bullying inside me – and I became my own worst enemy. Although I was president of the student government association and nominated for many campus leadership awards, I was drowning in depression. I did not find my own voice until many years later as a teacher in an urban school district. I had to choose whether I was going to allow adult bullies disguised as teachers to continue to intimidate me – or learn to survive on life’s terms.

It’s been said, “When you get sick of tired of being sick and tired, you change your behavior.” I was sick and tired of allowing history to repeat itself. I spent a lifetime of unconsciously seeking out abusive situations and relationships that mirrored my past. Until I was ready to do something about it.

Dr. Dan Owleus, founder of the Owleus Bullying Prevention Program, explains, “A recent U.S. study shows that 17 percent of all students experience bullying. This amounts to almost one in five students.”

Many schools have adopted anti-bullying policies. We need to do more than enforce consequences after bullying has already occurred. We need to teach kids how to take good care of themselves before bullying behaviors occur.

Irene van der Zande, founder of Kidpower, explained how children (and adults) can stand up against bullies with these suggestions:

Act with Confidence, Awareness, and Self-Respect. van der Zande insists you are less likely to

be picked on if you act with awareness and confidence. Project an assertive attitude by holding your head up, maintain a positive attitude, and avoid bullies.

Be Positive and Powerful. If a bully says something unkind to you, ignore it. Simply say, “Thanks” or “Have a nice day” and walk away. Show in your behavior that the bully has no power over you.

Set Appropriate Boundaries. Sometimes if you ignore repeated bullying, it escalates. Bullies are cowards. Silent victims are their favorite targets. Say in a strong, assertive voice, “Stop!” or “Get out of my way!” and leave the situation. Take charge of your space.

Use Your Voice. If responding with calm does not work, respond with a louder voice, “Stop bullying me!” Call attention to the situation.

Protect Your Feelings. If a bully resorts to name-calling, say, “No, I’m not,” “That’s not true,” or “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” As you walk away, think about 10 remarkable gifts and talents you possess. It’s not important what a bully thinks about you – what matters is what YOU think about you.

Stick with the Crowd. Don’t be caught in situations where you are by yourself, especially if you are being bullied by someone. Follow others into the restroom if you need to use it. Walk with others in the halls between classes.

Take Action. Ask for Help. Do not believe only a coward would tell an adult. It takes great courage to inform an adult if you’re being bullied. Ask to be moved to a different class. Contact the principal. Write your teacher a note and explain the situation. Tell the bus driver and sit at the front of the bus.

Many years after I experienced bullying in high school, I shared my feelings with a counselor. I asked him, “Why me? Why did the bully single me out?” The counselor answered, “Because you took it.”

He was right. The bullying started with my best friend. I said nothing. She encouraged her new friends to participate in the bullying. It didn’t end until I stood up for myself. That happened when I got angry and stood my ground. The bullies backed down. Why? Because bullies are cowards who use power to control others.

I heard a wise seventh grader say, “Ignore the people who talk behind your back. That’s where they belong: Behind you.” When children (and adults) set strong personal boundaries and refuse to allow others to define who they are, they discover confidence.

Remember that your future is always ahead of you; never behind you.

How do you protect yourself from bullying?

About Dr. Julie Connor

As a TEDx speaker, educator, youth advocate, and collaborative leadership consultant, Julie Connor, Ed.D., prepares youth to be leaders and adults to be mentors and role models. She provides youth and adults with tools to collaborate, build teamwork, define their purpose, and align attainable goals with their vision and core values. Julie is the author of the award-winning goal-setting book, Dreams to Action Trailblazer’s Guide.

Learn more at


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