What should you do if you have a friend who is being bullied? 

Of course, the right thing is to help them. But you want to do it in a way that makes the situation better rather than worse. You need to realize that not everything you do may be helpful. 

Think about it. If you stand up to someone who is being mean to your friend, you can’t be sure they’ll say, “I’m sorry. I won’t do it again. I’ll be nice to your friend from now on.” Will your actions make them like your friend better? Perhaps, if you’re the most popular and toughest person in the school or workplace. Otherwise, they could get mad at you, too, and might attack you. Unfortunately, well-meaning people have gotten injured standing up for someone else.

Instead, use the Golden Rule. Ask yourself, “If I were my friend who is being targeted, how would I want to be helped? Would I prefer to have everyone protect me all the time, or would I prefer to be resilient so I can handle the situation by myself?” Of course, they would rather learn resilience. Instead of standing up for them, teach them what they need to know so they can be independent.

Also, ask yourself, “If I were I were bullying someone and their friend wanted me to stop, how would I want them to approach me? Would I want them to challenge me or make me look like a bad guy in front of everyone, or would I want them to do it in a way that doesn’t make me look or feel bad?” The second, of course.

So, let’s figure out what you can do.

The best thing is to teach your friend to be resilient and treat their aggressor like a friend rather than an enemy.

There are things you can do immediately when your friend is being bullied. Let’s say the person is calling your friend a dork and they’re getting upset. Instead of saying, “Stop calling my friend a dork,” you can turn to your friend and say emphatically, “You know what! I’m a bigger dork than you are!” This will confuse both your friend and the person calling them names, and they might even laugh after a few seconds. But if you can call yourself a dork, your friend will learn that an insult is nothing to get upset about, and you will neutralize the hostility.

Let’s say some big guy is challenging your friend to a fight, saying, “Stand up for yourself! Show me you’re not a coward!” Instead of telling the guy to leave your friend alone, you can say, “Let me fight him for you. You’re too big, it won’t be fair! Let me do it for you!” Both of them will probably stand there confused, and then you make like you are going to play fight with your friend. This way you joined with the aggressor, while making it clear that the fight isn’t fair. You will have protected your friend and ended the threatening encounter.

Another thing you can do is say, “Wow, my friend must have really made you mad. What did he do to you?”  You are treating the aggressor sympathetically, as though there is a good reason for them to want to beat up your friend, while turning the situation from a physical one into a verbal one. If the aggressor is angry, they will probably ask why, and then you can discuss what happened. Otherwise, they’ll probably realize they have no good reason to attack your friend.

Sometimes a situation is truly dangerous. These techniques might not work. If necessary, call for help. But remember, the best thing is to help your friend become resilient while showing respect to everyone involved.

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