Social Groups and Bullying

I was chatting with a person at the oil change place today and – as is common – she asked me what I do. Then – she asked me – how exactly one stops bullying. So – we started talking about removing the reward for bullying, how that is different from punishing a bully and what exactly standing up to a bully looks like.

There are many ways to stand up to a bully. Sometimes it involves, actually standing up, but really, all it is is removing their reward. I realize this isn’t helpful on it’s own, so let me give you an example of what I mean using social groups as the tool.

When bullies bully, the reward they get from doing so – is often social. They are trying to socially ostracize someone through aggression and intimidation and name calling. Their goal is to control the social dynamic by being the person who gets to decide – who is in and who is out.

A target of bullying is – out. That’s their reward. What can a target do to remove the reward? They can remove the bully’s ability to determine who is in and out. And you can do that – by creating a new group – that doesn’t include the bully.

I always tell kids, including my own, look for other kids who have been labelled – out. And make friends with them. This is something that is really hard for grade school kids to get, but by middle school, where there are more kids, it is easier for kids to find kids like them and create new social groups – where they are included.

There is nothing that annoys a bully more, than a target being excluded and not carrying because – they have their own group to be part of and don’t need the group the bully controls.

You can remove the reward – by not playing the bully’s game. Don’t try to curry their favor to get in with them. Create your own in group. Take the power of inclusion and exclusion away from the bully. Help yourself. And help the other kids in the school at the same time.

What is the most powerful thing a bystander can do?

A bystander wields a lot of power precisely because they can actively, openly and purposeful go stand by the side of the target of bullying, and include them – visually – for everyone to see! They can show the bully, that the bully does not have the power to decide who is in and who is out.

It is not necessary to argue with a bully, fight a bully or punish them. Just – actively include the people they try to exclude.Do this and eventually the bully will have excluded themselves to the point they isolate themselves in an attempt to isolate others.

Don’t allow a bully to determine social groups. Actively seek out people. Yes – this takes courage. But your courage will be rewarded by other kids who will look to you for support.