Genocides start with Bullying: Teaching Children to be Activists & Upstanders

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Today is National Pink Shirt Anti-Bullying Awareness Day. I hope you are wearing your Pink. I know some of you are wondering how I am making the connections between Genocides and School Bullying. I know this may sound dramatic and even too scary to discuss, especially for young children, but it’s so important that our children are mindful of the patterns of historical atrocities and the similarities to their everyday lives.  How can children recognize and connect the patterns of something as horrific as genocide to the common practice of bullying in their lives and at school? Disclaimer: This blog will be longer than my usual blog posts. I just have so much that I want to say. I will try my best to put everything in nuggets so I am respectful of your time.

I am thinking about this so much these days…post-Douglas High School. Are we listening to our children? Are we hearing their hearts?

The 8 Phases of Genocide can be used to teach children the history of genocides or could be connected to current, more relevant scenarios to demonstrate its similarities to bullying in schools. It is also a great entry point to teach our children practical ways to engage in empathy.



When society labels and categories groups of people it often delineates power structures. Examples of common classifications include:

  • Black, White, Hispanic, Native
  • Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish
  • Gay, Straight, Transgendered

Today’s School Bullying: A group girls begin to call Rachel and her friends losers because they were different and are not interested in the “trendy things” that many teenage girls are interested in. This group of girls, lead by Jennifer has labeled themselves the “popular girls”.


When we give words or symbols to the classifications from phase 1. Examples would be:

  • Ni**er for an African American
  • Fa**ot for someone who’s gay

Today’s School Bullying: As the “loser” labeling escalated the girls in the popular group begin to call Rachel and her friends the “Reject Rats”. This label began to circulate throughout the school and soon many of her classmates felt comfortable calling her Rachel the “Reject Rat”.


One group denies the humanity in another group.

Today’s School Bullying: Jennifer would start placing plastic rats on Rachel’s desk, by her locker, or on the cafeteria table where Rachel and her friends would eat lunch.  Jennifer and her “popular girls” group would go up to all of Rachel’s friends and say “if you are friends with a rat than you must be one too” and then they would put a slice of cheese on their lockers.


Planning is put in place and the collective begins to organize how groups will be targeted and who is part of the group

Today’s School Bullying: The “popular girls” meet at Jennifer’s house over the weekend to come up with a list of all the girls who are a part of the “Reject Rats” and the action plan to humiliate them at school the next week.


Groups are driven further apart by the extremists and force others to join through intimidation.

Today’s School Bullying: The “Popular Girls” wanted to more girls in their group to humiliate Rachel and her friends more. If the girls did not agree with joining in the “Popular Girls” group, they were told they would be treated as one of the “Reject Rats”. Jennifer said “you join us or be a part of the rejects. Which are you going to choose?” Slowly, nobody wanted to be friends with Rachel because they didn’t want to be a part of or associate with the “Reject Rats.”


Further planning takes place in order to do more damage.

Today’s School Bullying – Jennifer sends messages on social media to bring slices of cheese to school on Friday to put in Rachel’s locker, on her desk or any place Rachel might be. The “Popular Girls” also wrote the letters “RR” on the lockers of all of the girls that still hung out with Rachel.


The actual act of genocide itself.

Today’s School Bullying: The bullying continues to escalate and Rachel began to hate going to school each day. Every time she got on social media she saw people talking about her or posted pictures of rats or cheese. Every time she went down the hallway, people would make squeaking noises at her. Until final, she reached her breaking point…..she didn’t want to live anymore.


The perpetrators attempt to cover up what they’ve done.

Today’s School Bullying: When the administration asked about the targeting and bullying of Jennifer, the leader of the “popular girls”, said she had no idea what happened to Rachel. She’s didn’t know how it got started and that it was just a little teenage prank that some of the girls were involved in…but that the administration is making way too big of a deal of it.


Scenes like these happen every day in schools around the country. Sometimes we don’t even know that these events are happening to our children. As parents, we have to stay plugged into our children.



Stay Socially Engaged – It’s less likely that a bully will actively seek out someone who is surrounded by friends. Try to continue to connect to a group of classmates that have the same values.

Expose Bullying Behaviors Early – Sometimes bullies are really good and hiding their negative behaviors from others, especially adults. Don’t be afraid to speak out to an adult. The longer you wait the more aggressive the bullying may get. When the bully gets away with a little teasing, the actions get worse because he/she now knows that the victim is not going to tell an adult. Exposing bullying early is not only protecting you, but it is a courageous decision that may protect others too.

Respond like a Robot – When responding to a bully use direct language that’s unemotional and assertive body language. You don’t want the bully to see that you are affected emotionally (anger, fear, etc because the bully knows how to push your buttons. Be direct (use the bully’s name) with simply, calm “robot-like” sounding responses and looking them right in the eyes.



  • Don’t Reply – bullies can use what you say against you give them more fuel to attach (remember anything can be screen-shot, deleted or cut/pasted out of context)
  • Block Sender – put a block on your phone or social media. Tell an adult that you have blocked the sender in case that information is ever needed in the future. You can also screenshot that you have blocked the sender and text/email a copy of the screenshot to someone that you trust (preferably an adult)
  • Keep messages – send the messages to an adult to keep as evidence for some kind of action to be taken.
  • Talk to an adult (or at least a friend), the police, and report to the social media company. Don’t handle it alone!

PARENTS – Go over the rules, right and responsibility in having and using technology. What are your expectations as a family? Ask questions…often (they won’t like it, but do it anyway).


If you know me at all, you know how strongly I believe in the power of children’s literature and open, honest dialogue with children. Children’s literature has a way of making any topic less intimidating and opens the line of communication in a way that few other things can. Below are great books on Bullying and questions to begin to dialogue with your children.

Questions to Ponder with the books:

  • What does “hurt people hurt people” mean? How can that be applied to this book or to anyone you know?
  • How does the situation in this book compare to life in schools?
  • Have you or anyone you know had any experiences with bullying? How did you handle it? How is it similar/different to what happened in the book?
  • What is the difference between upstanders and bystanders? Which is more difficult to do? Why?
  • What are some ways that we can practice being upstanders? What would that look like in our daily lives? [I would even write them down on sticky notes and have them around the house as a constant reminder to stand up for others]

 PRE-K – 2nd GRADE

Chrysanthemum  by Kevin Henkes

 A story about a little girl who is teased about the named that she adored before going to school.


Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

A story about decisions that Chloe, the main character makes when a new girl comes to school.

Oliver Button is a Sissy by Tomie dePaola

 Oliver is being teased because he’d rather read books, paint pictures, and dance than play sports.


The Hundred Dresses by By Eleanor Estes

The story unfolds when a classmate who is mocked by a group of girls for wearing the same dress to school every day. It highlights what happens when other choose to be bystanders or upstanders.

Bully by Patricia Polocco

When students begin teasing classmates on Facebook, Lyla becomes an upstander and takes action.

Wonder by By R.J. Palacio

August, who was born with a facial deformity, goes to public school for the first time in fifth grade.


Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

 Clay, the main character is left with trying to understand what happened to his classmate, Hannah who committed suicide. suicide, and why she wanted Clay to understand what happened to her.

The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake

Maleeka is teased about being “too black” and wearing clothes made by her mother. Mostly, this bright teenager just wants to fit in.

Let’s be proactive in listening to our children and monitoring their behaviors. We have to be vigilant In keeping our schools safe places for all students. Please leave a comment about how you talk to your children about bullying.

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