In her interactive presentation about bullying, suicide prevention specialist Donna Wolff allowed the audience to answer questions about their experience with bullying and learn about the reasons behind the issue and the importance of standing up to bullies.

To show how common bullying is, Wolff asked the audience to indicate whether they can relate to the individuals in the YouTube video Stop Bullying: Speak Up Special Presentation. The individuals in the video are teenagers and adults who have been subjected to bullying and are describing their reactions to it.

All audience members answered that they could relate to at least one of the individuals and that they had been bullied at some point in their lives.

According to the teenagers’ experiences from the video, common reactions to bullying include laying low and ignoring the bully not to show them any emotional reaction. Both are problematic because nobody tells bullies to stop; only makes them feel like their behavior is okay.

The same goes for those who turn to bully others. They may look for payback, revenge, or a sense of justice or relief for their experiences. Usually, they only end up feeling out of character and bad about their actions.

Other common reasons why teenagers bully others are to gain popularity, gain power, to fit in with their peers who are bullying others, to increase the level of excitement in their lives, or because they model their behavior based on aggression that they experience at home. The reasons for most cases of bullying are not related to the victim but rather mirror issues the bullies are going through themselves.

No matter what the reasons are, understanding them can help parents, victims, and others involved understand why the bullying is happening and how it could be best addressed and stopped. 

What children shouldn’t do is react to bullying with violence. Victims retaliating with words or physical actions don’t help solve the issue that causes the bullying and may give the bully another reason to be hurtful. Wolff said, “Violence doesn’t help anything, but standing up and telling somebody is huge.” 

The importance of standing up to people who bully others is, in fact, one of the two main things Wolff wants parents and children to learn from her presentation. It is not only children who stand by instead of standing up. Adults often become bystanders as well, for example, when their colleagues are bullied at the workplace.

The issue children face when standing up to bullies is that they may fear becoming a victim as well. They are also often overly concerned with fitting in with their peers and being accepted. Against their better judgment and values, they may stand by instead of standing up to someone bullying someone else.

As audience members at the presentation remarked, standing up to bullying is not easy. Wolff asked who had stood up to bullies before and several people raised their hands. They recounted standing by at first but stepping in after all because they realized how wrong the bullying was.

If nobody tells the bully to stop or if the victim tries to ignore the bullying, the bully feels like their behavior is okay. It can take as little as a single person standing up to the bully to break that thought pattern.

Standing up to bullies doesn’t require doing it directly to them. If children don’t dare to stand up to a bully directly, they should tell an adult about it or help the victim tell an adult.

The most important piece of advice that Wolff wants children to take away is to speak up and talk to somebody about being bullied. Telling a trusted person about being bullied can be scary because children may fear that it will make the bullying worse. However, as the individuals in the video agree, they all later wished that they would have spoken up sooner about being subjected to bullying.

Even when children tell their parents that they are being bullied, parents may hesitate to take steps against it. They may fear that they will make matters worse for their child, offend other parents, or they don’t know how to handle the situation. In Wolff’s experience, nothing is worse than children keeping it a secret that they are being bullied or parents not doing anything against it after their children told them.

Addressing parents, Wolff said, “Our kids are deciding to end their life because they can’t stand the humiliation. So, parents, we’ve got to be brave enough. I don’t care how hard that conversation is. Talk.” 

Donna Wolff is a suicide prevention specialist at the youth crisis intervention center and youth Shelter at the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska and the Founder of the Northeast Nebraska Suicide Prevention Coalition. She is also a certified trainer for severaldifferent suicide awareness, intervention, prevention, and postvention education trainings such as QPR (Question. Persuade. Refer.) and ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training). For her work, Wolff received the AFSP (American Foundation Suicide Prevention) award for Outstanding Prevention Education 2018 and the Public Citizen of the Year Award 2019 from NASW (National Association of Social Workers).

Resource List:

The YouTube video: Stop Bullying: Speak Up Special Presentation|Speak Up|Cartoon Network 🡪  tips for parents, educators, and the community to find out what they can do against bullying – anti-bullying tactics and campaigns – advice for parents of bullied children as well as for parents of bullies – kids-friendly website to learn ways to be an ally against bullying, also holds discussion tips for parents to discuss bullying with their children

Crisis Phone Numbers:

Mental Health Crisis number: 988

Crisis Text Line: 741741

National Suicide Prevention Hotline number 1-800-273-8255 (TALK)

1-800-399-PEER (7337) – Peer listening line for those under 25 years old

1-800-442-HOPE (4673) – national Youth Crisis Hotline for crisis intervention and school tip line for reporting weapons or homicidal remarks

1-800-999-9999 – Covenant House NineLine dealing with crisis intervention and angry feelings

1-800-784-2433 – National Hopeline connects caller to a 24-hour crisis center in their area

Presentation by Donna Wolff

Written by Emily Rottaler

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