Becoming an Upstander - The Ultimate Bullying Prevention Technique

Bullying prevention is likely part of your tier one interventions. But how are you teaching bullying prevention? I’ve found that explaining the different roles in bullying is helpful for students to develop empathy and practice perspective-taking (two strategies that are huge when it comes to bullying prevention!). And the most empowering role of all? The upstander.

The Roles of Bullying

When it comes to bullying scenarios the traditional main players are the bully, the target, and the bystander.

  • The bully - the person who is doing the bullying behavior

  • The target - the person who is receiving the bullying behavior

  • The bystander - the person who witnesses the bullying behavior

Remember, words matter…

Be mindful when teaching the different roles of bullying. Even a well-intended lesson can be harmful if it uses words like “victim” instead of “target”. It’s also important to be aware of the power of labels. We always want to explain to students that these roles refer to a series of incidents, not who these people are for life. The student who is engaging in bullying behavior needs to know that they are not a bad kid or a “bully” all the time. Explain how these roles are constantly changing. A child who is the bully this year may be bullied next year!

What is an upstander?

An upstander is essentially a better bystander. They are the person who witnesses the bullying behavior but instead of standing by they stand up for the target!

The CDC defines it as follows: “An upstander is someone who sees what happens and intervenes, interrupts, or speaks up to stop the bullying.”

Why is it important to teach students to be an upstander?

Being an upstander is so empowering! Instead of watching something bad happen and not knowing what to do, students know how to intervene and help. This can have a ripple effect of empowering the target to stand up for themselves and/or to report the behavior.

Being an upstander can prevent future bullying from occurring as the bully sees that they are losing power as more kids are on the side of the target. A bonus effect is that the target feels supported reducing the chance of bullying-related anxiety and depression. (National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Violence Prevention, 2023)

How to teach students to be an upstander?

Teach a bullying prevention lesson

Facilitate a discussion and reflection during a whole class lesson. You as the counselor can push in to lessons or distribute the information to teachers to teach during their class. Click here for outlines and lesson plans. Looking for a digital version? Try this one.

Play a game!

Games are a great way to get kids interested and engaged in learning new concepts. I love to use this salad bowl game to teach terminology and the roles everyone plays in bullying. A board game is another great way to introduce the concept of an upstander.

Use Boom Cards

Boom Cards are an awesome digital, zero prep activity to supplement a counseling lesson. They work great virtually or in person. Check out my Bullying Prevention Boom Cards here.

Show a Video

Kids love videos! This video is perfect for explaining the role of an upstander.

Have you taught your students about being an upstander? Hopefully, now you have some ideas to get started today!

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