BY ANNE K. ARD
This time of year always makes me think about back to school. Ads for school supplies and backpacks, remembering the first day of school pictures of my kids, the beginning of practices for State High sports teams on the field across from my office — although I long for more months of summer, the new school year is definitely upon us.
How do you get your kids ready for a new school year? It may be clothes or school supply shopping or beginning to move from the more relaxed summer schedule into one that will adapt to a school day. Parents do a lot to prepare their kids for the school year ahead, but I wonder if we sometimes forget to talk with them about the relationships they will experience and build. We may talk about focusing on academics or how to balance extracurricular activities with school work, but do we talk with them about how to treat other students? Or how to intervene appropriately if they see someone doing something that puts another at risk physically or emotionally?
I had many conversations with my kids over the years about being welcoming and inclusive to others. Much to my kids’ eye-rolling chagrin, we talked in our house about what it must be like to be the new kid in school, especially if you didn’t speak English. They heard the speech about welcoming the stranger and how their parents expected them to treat others. When raising our children, we encouraged them to intervene if they saw a problem, but we were woefully short on the specifics of what that should or could look like. We just didn’t have an easily understandable way to teach them how to do it, how be an engaged bystander.
Often when we see something amiss, we hesitate — not because we don’t want to do something to help, but because we don’t know what to do or how to be helpful. Recent research offers three simple ways to think about intervention if you are a bystander. The three Ds — direct, distract, delegate — are appropriate for elementary kids and those in college and beyond. One of the Ds can be used when one witnesses bullying, sexual or physical violence or anytime someone is at risk.
The first option is direct intervention, inserting oneself into the situation to protect the person at risk or appropriately confront the aggressor. Direct action confronts inappropriate or harmful behavior while also providing support to the victim.
The second option is to distract, by redirecting the conversation or distracting the aggressor. Distraction can be as simple as suggesting another activity or asking a question to change an uncomfortable subject.
The third option is to delegate, the action many of us recommend to our children — find a responsible adult to tell. Some situations require more supported intervention and some situations we are simply not prepared to handle. That is when delegation becomes the best option.
Assessing which of the three Ds is most appropriate in a situation depends on the situation itself as well as our own comfort level. But this decision, too, can generate some great discussions around the dinner table.
Elie Wiesel, the powerful chronicler of the Holocaust, once wrote, “Let us remember: what hurts the victim most is not the cruelty of the oppressor, but the silence of the bystander.”
So as we begin another school year, let’s teach our children not to be silent. But just as we give them the supplies they need for school, let’s give them the tools they need to be engaged bystanders. Let’s teach them the skills to intervene appropriately as bystanders so they will know how to be the people we are asking them to be.