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Teaching your Middle-school Child How to be a Courageous Upstander in School

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Middle School is a lot like the famous opening to the Charles Dickens’ novel A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… It was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness…” The experience for our children often teeters on the balance, leaning to the best or to the worst in response to their peers. Middle-school students generally don’t like to rock the boat, but the difference between being a bystander or an upstander can make a critical impact in both your child’s life and others.

A courageous upstander is someone who understands what is right and who is willing to stand up for others. Courage is not about being unafraid but about taking a stand regardless of how one feels. Leaders take initiative rather than waiting to see what someone else is going to do first.

Character may be revealed in the face of challenge, but it is also practiced, developed and cemented through everyday decisions. Making the choice to do right once increases the likelihood that choice will be repeated, and it gives courage to (en-courages) those who are standing by and watching.

We all want our children to be leaders in compassion and in doing right. Here are some tips when it comes to teaching your middle school child how to be a courageous upstander in school.

1. Be a compassionate upstander yourself.

Point out to your kids situations where you all can stand up for someone, and when you see an opportunity, do it yourself.

2. Teach your child to be kind to the vulnerable.

This means inviting unpopular kids to hang out, intentionally including kids who are isolated, and modeling respect for all students.

3. Teach your child to be kind to the troublemaker.

Standing up for what is right does not need to be aggressive or demeaning. There is no advantage in putting anyone down. This does not mean your child needs to ignore the harmful behavior. Instead, they can try inviting the perpetrator to shift camps and set an example for them in how to respect other people.

4. Teach your child to simply speak up – silence equals consent.

“This is not right.” “I am standing with my friend.” “No, thank you, I don’t believe smoking (or porn, or drugs, or cursing, or abusive conduct…) is right.”

5. Role-play scenarios at home.

It’s tough to think on your feet in a stressful situation. Pre-equip your child with a few simple responses, then rehearse them. Role play until your child is comfortable and confident.

6. Teach your child to interrupt/redirect.

Turn attention away from the confrontation, the bullying, or the toxic situation. Take the victim by the arm, “Let’s check out the game!” “Let’s not be late to class!” “The teacher is looking for you!” When other kids step in, bullying stops within 10 seconds more than 50 percent of the time (Psychology Today, Hawkins, Pepler, & Craig, 2001).

7. Teach your child to stand with the victim.

Whether it is bullying or an otherwise toxic situation, numbers count. Stand with the person who needs help. Ask a friend or two to join you. Make it clear that “light” is being cast on the situation.

Sponsored by the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the State of Florida, Department of Children and Families.

This project was supported by Contract No. LJ990 awarded by the state administering office for the STOP Formula Grant Program. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this publication/program/exhibition are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the state or the U.S. Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women.


Who encourages you the most at school and at home?

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