Briar MacLean made a split-second decision at school last week.
Sitting in class in Calgary, he heard some students start to bully another student. Briar told Canada’s National Post that he saw one boy put another boy in a headlock. Then Briar, who attends Sir John A. Macdonald Junior High School, heard the flick of a knife.
He wasn’t trying to play a hero when he pushed the knife-wielding bully away from his classmate. But school officials accused him of exactly that. His mother, Leah O’Donnell, said that the school’s vice-principal told her that the school doesn’t “condone heroics” and a teacher should always be called in such situations.
Briar was reprimanded for helping out his fellow student. The bully was suspended and the police were called.
Some bullying experts say that the school should be commending—not punishing—Briar for his actions.
“By reprimanding Briar, the administration is demonstrating to bullies that students who intervene will be reprimanded,” Richard Brenner, author of 101 Tips for Targets of Workplace Bullies, told TakePart. “This can only encourage bullies.”
Brenner said the school appears to have its own problems since it was possible for “a bully to engage a target with a teacher in the room.”
He added, “This administration is sorely in need of some education about bullying policy.”
Areva Martin, a lawyer, is the founder and president of Special Needs Network, Inc., a Los Angeles-based organization created specifically to raise awareness of issues that impact individuals with autism and related disabilities. She says that as many as two-thirds of a classroom may be bullied.
So what should kids do if they are confronted with a similar situation to Briar’s?
The federal website Stop Bullying states, “There are a few simple, safe ways children can help the person being bullied get away from the situation. However they do it, make sure the child knows not to put themselves in harm’s way.”
It recommends that a child create a distraction. “If no one is rewarding the child who is bullying by paying attention, the behavior may stop,” the website states. “Bystanders can help to focus the attention on something else.”
The website also adds, “Remind children to intervene only if it feels safe to do so, and never use violence in order to help the person get away.”
In Briar’s case, he may have felt like he had one option—to step into the situation.
When we encourage others to advocate for those in need, we in effect ostracize those that bully.
“Was it the safest option? Perhaps not,” said Patti Criswell LMSW, a clinical social worker and instructor at Western Michigan University. However, in these instances, she said, “We don’t always have time to think. I think he’s a hero because his decision was to take action to help someone in trouble. How can anyone discourage that?”
Martin said that children like Briar need to feel empowered and taught about bullying. She recommends teaching and reteaching the difference between telling and tattling, starting in preschool and in every grade afterwards.
“We need to empower kids to stand up for themselves by setting boundaries without being mean and to stand up for others,” she said. “When we encourage others to advocate for those in need, we in effect ostracize those that bully. When this is achieved, relational aggression plummets.”
Do you think Briar MacLean did the right thing? Share your thoughts in comments.