When I worked with the YMCA Girl Power camp in Boulder CO in 2011, the girls in the camp said that the most important use of swagger in school is having the courage to stand up for someone else when they are being bullied or made fun of by other kids. One girl described how she wanted to stand up for one of her friends when the “popular girls” made fun of her. But she couldn’t find the courage to do it and felt terrible about it. As a group, we discussed ways to deal with that situation and practiced using words that might help so everyone would feel better able it when another one would arise. Some suggestions were using simple, straightforward language like, “I don’t think what you are doing is right” and “Stop bothering my friend.”
Nearly 30 percent of 12 to 18 year-olds in school reported that they were the target of bullies in the last six months, according to a study by the US Department of Justice. In the past, there was the perception that bullies have low-self esteem and need to put others down to make themselves feel better. A recent study published this past October in Psychology Today, showed that bullies actually have high self-opinions and those who are bullied have low self-esteem. On the other hand, kids who experience bullying may have lower self-esteem while being bullied and may eventually come to believe the negative things that are said to them, causing self-doubt and self-loathing.
Research has also shown that while some kids are bullied and some are bullies, 70-80 percent are by-standers. And because the by-standers are the majority, they have the opportunity to change the dynamics. “You do not have to be angry or confrontational but one person standing up for what is right is usually enough to inspire others to follow,” stated Mike Hardcastle in his article on Beating Peer Pressure for Teen Advice.
Peer Pressure and self-image
Teenagers who have higher self-esteem find it easier to resist peer pressure and deal with life’s challenges. While most teen-agers are vulnerable to going along with the crowd in order to be accepted, those with a good self-opinion are more likely to stand up for themselves and others and also avoid engaging in behaviors like drinking and smoking.
A growing number of organizations are focusing on anti-bullying. “Gang Up for Good,” an effort of Mean Stinks, sponsored by the makers of Secret deodorant, encourages girls to paint the pinkie finger nail blue, as a symbol that they don’t support
bullying. Read more about Mean Stinks here!
Although we usually associate bullying with school, bullies can be found everywhere, including work and in your family. Remembering to use your swagger to stand up for others is one way we can all contribute to creating a gentler, more peaceful world. As one respondent to the swagger survey said, “My example of swagger is raising my voice to stand up against people bullying others.”
Let’s all try to do follow her example and fight against bullying with Swagger.