How the buddy system can ward off bullies

 By Michelle Covington
how the buddy system can ward off bullies

One of the best ways for a teen to avoid becoming a victim of bullying is to surround himself or herself with allies. Bullies like to target people who are isolated. They choose victims they think will be easy targets. The best way to avoid becoming a target is for teens to develop strong peer allies.

As a parent or educator, encourage your teens to develop a buddy system where two or three get together and pledge to stand beside and stand up for each other against bullies. While even one dedicated friend is enough to make a difference, two or more are better. No matter how alone your teen might feel, there are almost always other teens experiencing the same emotions. Encourage your teen to find other teens they can connect with and develop friendships.

Think of dolphins in a pod. Being part of a pod provides each dolphin with protection and companionship. When they stick together, dolphins are able to fight off sharks. They are fiercely protective of their podmates. Teens who are part of a pod learn social skills through these friendships that are essential in life and help deter bullying. Teens in a pod will experience a measure of security even in the face of bullying that isolated teens do not have. Let your teen know that they must take the initiative in developing these pods through building strong relationships with others and being a good friend in return.

Friends as allies

“Friends are one of, if not the most important factor in diminishing bullying, says freedom from bullying speaker, Paul Coughlin.

Friends make the best bully deterrents. Not only does the ability to maintain friendships show would-be bullies that a teen has the necessary confidence and social skills to fight back, but the physical presence of a potential ally will usually make the bully decide that an attack is not worth the risk. A united front makes a more difficult target.

Remember, when we say ‘fight back’ we’re not talking about a physical fight. The best way for a target or a target’s friend to make the bullying stop is to show nonviolent assertiveness through their words and body language. The best thing an ally can say to a bully is “leave him/her alone.” This may potentially draw the bully’s attention to the ally, in which case it is the initial target’s turn to become the defender. Teens are always stronger when they stand together.

Most bullies will attack with words, and teens need to be prepared to defend each other with words. The goal of the bully is to elicit an emotional response. Encourage teens not to get angry when they or a friend are being bullied. Instead, they should use dismissive language such as “whatever,” or “that’s not cool.”

Making friends

Not all teens are as skilled at making and developing friendships as others. As adults, it is our responsibility to teach them what it means to be a good friend. Begin by asking them if their friends are good friends. Then ask them if they treat their friends the way that they expect their friends to treat them.

Remind them that friendships are not one-sided. They require loyalty and support. Good friends are not fickle. They won’t bail on plans if another offer comes along, or ignore their friends when someone else is around. They also require effort to build. This effort might be uncomfortable for some teens, but it is an essential skill that they will need for the rest of their lives. Help them practice approaching someone they don’t know well through role-playing. Practice conversation starters then encourage your teen to use them the next day.

Let your teens know that there is such a thing as over-persistence. Friendships usually need time to grow, so calling repeatedly or showing up uninvited before a relationship has been established will more likely push others away. They can’t pressure people into being friends. What they should learn to do is observe how others interact and join in. This is not the same as abandoning their individuality; it is healthy integration into a group, or pod, dynamic.

Get your teen involved

If teens are still unable to make friends, consider getting them more involved at school or with extracurricular activities. The more time they spend around other people, the more their social skills will grow. Encourage them to sit at a lunch table with at least two other people.

Encourage them to observe how others interact and the differences in interaction styles. They don’t have to be an extrovert to have good social skills. When you’re out together, make a game out of watching people interact. Ask your teen whether they think the interactions are healthy or not and how they might react in each situation.

Find something your teen is interested in and then enroll them in a club or organization that matches their interests. Encourage them to make friends with their teammates. If they are not athletic, they can volunteer somewhere or apply for a job. Working with other people will help them build bonds and meet other people with similar interests.

Try to prevent your teen from spending too much time in isolated activities like video games or spending time online. These activities can trick the brain into thinking that it’s getting all of the socialization it needs, when in reality, teens aren’t developing the essential social skills they need to get through life or avoid bullies. As a parent, you may need to insist your teen take part in a group activity. Let them know they can decide which activity they are most interested in, but participation is mandatory.

Have your teens invite friends to participate in activities outside of school. One-on-one interaction in a casual setting will help deepen bonds of friendship. The in-depth conversations these settings allow enable teens to learn more about each other and become more a part of each other’s lives.

Once friendships are established based on these grounds and healthily maintained, friends can become strong allies. Encourage them to develop a pod mentality, dedicated to sticking together and defending each other against bullies.

*This article was written with assistance from Paul Coughlin‘s parent resource “4-Circle Solution to Bullying.” The full document will be available for purchase soon from The Protectors website.

Learn more about bullying on our bullying topic page.


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