The Character Movement

Empower the Bystanders

Perhaps one of the worst nights in Minnesota high school history happened at a St. Louis Park High School (SLP) hockey game on a cold February night many years ago. St. Louis Park is a community that has a large Jewish community (for Minnesota). Some of the fans from the other team thought it would be “funny” to throw bagels (a traditionally Jewish food) at the SLP hockey players. What was so tragic about that night was not that some rowdy teens were disrespectfully throwing bagels at the SLP hockey players, it was that the entire crowd just sat and watched. No one stood up and told them to stop.

To paraphrase Edmund Burke, “The only way for evil to triumph is for the vast majority of good people to do nothing.”

Dan Olweus’s research into bullying shows that about 10 percent of kids are bullies, about 10 percent are victims and the remaining 80 percent are bystanders. Research from Hawkins, Pepler and Craig also shows that when bystanders stand up for victims, the bullying stops in the vast majority of cases.

Research indicates that when a student speaks up and tries to stop bullying, the bullying behavior stops within 10 seconds, 75 percent of the time.” – Hawkins, Pepler & Craig, 2001

There is a lot of well-intended emphasis on how to stop bullying, but it hasn’t “fixed” the problem. Youth Frontiers is focused on taking a more social approach to bullying and disrespect. With more than 25 years of experience working with schools, I have seen how students take responsibility for their own school culture. If students can create and support a school culture where people are more kind, respectful and courageous, then the adults don’t have to anxiously hover over them.

Youth Frontiers’ focus is to empower the bystanders. When the bystanders — the 80 percent — stand up to the bullies, bullying no longer becomes an acceptable practice. The bystanders pool together to create a new school culture that doesn’t tolerate bullying. And because the kids are around each other all the time, you don’t need an adult to police the halls.

Kids know in their heads that bullying is bad. Youth Frontiers empowers students to listen to their hearts and stand up against bullies, bagel throwers and jerks. We believe that inspiring the bystanders to stand up is the best way to build a respectful and kind school environment. What would our schools and communities look like if our kids – the 80 percent – came together with a common goal for goodness?

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