Would You Stand Up to Hate?

When you see harassment happen, you can’t just assume someone else will step in. But how can you safely enter a menacing situation? Great news: Being a hero is not as scary as it seems.

You’re on the bus to school and hear a laugh-fest coming from the back. Soon enough, you see Corey’s phone held up high and understand what’s happening: He’s chuckling as he directs a pretty mean meme at a kid from your science class. You stop for a second, then think to yourself: Someone closer to Corey will do something...right?

What’s happening here is called the bystander effect. It means that if you are a part of a group of people who witness something cruel, you’re less likely to feel a personal responsibility to intervene. You think, “Oh, someone else will do it”—then bury your face back in your book.

But guess what? It’s your obligation to step in. Luckily, you don’t need to make a dramatic stand. Research shows that even mild pushback or social support can have a majorly meaningful effect. “If you laugh or do nothing, the bullying will continue,” says Justin Patchin, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center. “It’s important to send the message, however small, that certain behavior is not acceptable.” 

On the next two pages, you’ll read three different scenarios, each with two choices of actions you can take. Your ideal answer may not be there, and that’s fine! The goal here is to practice thinking about how you would react—so you’re ready to step up when it counts. 

Ask Yourself: How can I shut down rude or hateful behavior without making the situation worse—or becoming a target myself?


Beth just moved to town from Seattle, where she was a star cheerleader. Some other girls on your squad are threatened by the new competition, and before long, they’re bragging about their @GoBacktoWA Twitter account—full of super-mean tweets about Beth. What do you do? 

A. Rally some allies. If you can gather some teammates and friends to tweet back in Beth’s support, the hateful account might go silent. 

B. Speak up. The ringleaders have been pretty cruel to you before, but this is what it means to be brave...right? 

Your Best Move: A. Being brave doesn’t necessarily mean making yourself a target, so trust your gut here. The truth is, if a group of you replies to the account with kindness (“I think Beth’s nice & should be welcome here #nodisrespect”), you’re not only showing Beth public support—you’re making it OK for others at school to stand up for her as well. 


Robin, whom you don’t know that well, is studying for her Spanish test in the cafeteria when a group of girls and guys roll up with their lunch trays. From two tables away, you overhear one of them say, “Scram, nerd”—so Robin gets up to move. It happens every day that week. What do you do? 

A. Yell back. You’ve had enough. (“Hey, why don’t you scram?”) 

B. Reach out. You have her number from a group project, so you can shoot her a text. 

Your Best Move: B. When you’re supporting someone who is being tormented, your actions don’t have to be loud. In fact, sometimes they shouldn’t be. Reaching out privately first will make the person feel less alone without drawing more attention to their painful situation. (Sometimes it’s as easy as saying: “I saw those kids in the caf today and that’s not cool. I’m so sorry. Want to talk?”) 


While changing for gym class, some of the older boys notice your friend Kevin shyly undressing in the corner. They sneakily snap pics of him in his boxers, and the images get circulated. By the end of the day, everyone is laughing at Kevin in the hallways. He’s sad, but refuses to say anything. What do you do? 

A. Tell an adult. This is such a violation of privacy that it feels like more than you can handle. 

B. Get revenge. With access to the older boys’ yearbook pics and your Photoshop skills, these guys are toast. 

Your Best Move: A. Fighting back with a mean snap of your own won’t just make those boys angry, which will probably prolong the pain for Kevin, but they can also easily screenshot the photo and get you in trouble. Instead, save the evidence, and find that one adult you trust—it could be your parent, your newspaper adviser, or a counselor—and fill him or her in on what’s been happening. In the end, you’ll feel much better than you would if you had sent a vengeful snap that stooped to their level. 


Not feeling courageous enough to throw yourself up against an entire lunch table criticizing that sixth-grader’s outfit? Oftentimes, just interrupting the flow of the conversation can make it change course completely. (“Speaking of outfits, what are you going to wear to the chorus concert this weekend?”)


Last November, many Americans began wearing safety pins to identify themselves as allies to those most vulnerable to hateful remarks. So think about a good pro-kindness symbol for your school—maybe it’s a colorful ribbon on your wrist—and make it happen! It can stand as a constant reminder that meanness isn’t tolerated.


What’s one way to stop cyberbullying? At the least, pledge to never like, forward, or share damaging gossip, mean memes, or other hurtful content. And if you have a pretty good relationship with the person doing the bullying, you can take it one step further by shooting them a quick DM (“Hey, I know you’re better than that”).


Natalie Hampton, 16, spent most of seventh and eighth grade eating solo, thanks to relentless bullying. 

Now she has created a free app called Sit With Us, which helps students invite others to join their table in the school cafeteria. “Lunch may seem like a small thing, but I believe that incremental steps to improve the overall dynamic of a school community can bring about change,” Hampton says.

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