To defeat bullying, Scouts must shift from bystander to ‘upstander’

Note from Bryan: October is National Bullying Prevention Month. Each Wednesday this month, the BSA Youth Protection team will share important reminders about what each of us can do to prevent, recognize and report bullying as we work to make Scouting a safe place for all.

  • Week 1 (Oct. 4): The BSA is a safe place for all
  • Week 2 (this post): Encouraging Scouts to move from bystander to upstander
  • Week 3 (Oct. 18): What to do when bullying becomes serious
  • Week 4 (Oct. 25): Concerns for risk of harm and suicide

This post comes from Jim Wilson, national Youth Protection chairman.

How to encourage Scouts to move from bystander to “upstander”

It was Albert Einstein who said it best.

“The world is dangerous not because of those who do harm,” he said, “but because of those who look at it without doing anything.”

For National Bullying Prevention Month and beyond, let’s encourage our Scouts to do something. Let’s encourage them to be upstanders — not bystanders.

In the book The Bullying Antidote: Superpower Your Kids for Life, authors Louise Hart and Kristen Caven share their thoughts on the differences between bystanders and upstanders.

“Bystanders make a decision to either actively or passively support the bully” through a lack of involvement. An upstander “recognizes that he or she has a choice and decides, ‘I can and will do something to help make things better.’”

As we share knowledge about bullying prevention with our youth, we must remind our Scouts and Venturers that they have a choice. They can choose to make things better.

Hopefully the lessons about “a Scout is Kind” and their understanding that the BSA is meant to be a safe place for all Scouts and Scouters will help them make a choice. They can and will play important roles in changing the bullying environment if they step up and be an “upstander.”

The BSA has introduced the term “upstander” into our Youth Protection language and focus, but the concept goes beyond our movement.

Books are being written about the concept and how to understand the relationships between bystanders and upstanders. Celebrities are reaching out to their fans with personal requests for understanding and involvement to stop bullying. Actions are taking place on the internet and through social media to help bystanders evolve into upstanders.

Hart and Caven indicate that adults can share with our youth, and other adults, that the success of upstanders comes from their power to do the following:

  • Control or stop a bullying situation
  • Support the victim and ensure their safety
  • Be assertive and step in to a difficult situation
  • Be an example of great Scouting by doing the right things
  • Ask for help from a trusted adult, when needed
  • Set boundaries that are understandable and healthy
  • Make sure that others understand how to be compassionate to the victim, while also preventing bullying

Be an upstander, and teach your youth how to be upstanders. You can make a difference!


  1. Scouts need to be the Sheepdogs. Stop the wolves from harming the sheep….So proud of my scout and his desire to do just that. He is not a ‘big kid’ but certainly is mature beyond his years and is an upstander. Scouting has really been impactful in shaping his young adulthood…..

    • Ron,

      While I agree with your post, bullying in all forms will be just a prevalent now despite this concerted effort with in the BSA. In fact, I was bullied by Troop members as a child, long before YPT was even conceived and implemented. I changed Troops within Town, the bullying continued at School, etc.. Unfortunately, some folks will equate bullying as the modern form of “survival of the fittest” to quote Darwin’s Evolutionary theories. Bullying will not STOP Overnight, a year, a decade; it too will be evolutionary, at a snail’s pace in human terms..

  2. Ken – At least he came – he didn’t send a recording, like his immediate predecessor did. From your comment, I have a feeling that if he walked onto the stage and said the Oath, Law, and Outdoor Code, you would have condemned it

    Please, keep the discussion on the subject of bullying, not politics

  3. Just saw on NBC that girls will be allowed to join. That throws a new dimension into this topic as well as youth protection. Another bombshell from national. Amazing. At least my daughter can join and continue tomoutshoot the boys in archery and rifle.

    • That’s great that she excels in shooting, but I hope this doesn’t turn into girls against boys. Is she in a junior rifle program? My son and his scout buddy joined a junior rifle program after earning their rifle merit badges at summer camp. There aren’t many girls in the program, but they are some of the top shooters in the group.

  4. It is easy to stand up to and stand against blatant physical and verbal abuse and be supported. When someone stands up to someone who is the passive aggressive bully. The passive aggressive double down on the victimhood with minimizing phrases that start with, “I was just…..,” or “I was only….” There needs to be social support for those who stand up to the passive aggressive as well.

    • Absolutely! In addition, my son was blamed for being bullied by other Scouts by his Scoutmaster. The Scoutmaster came to this conclusion by the way he responded to being bullied. It was my son’s reaction to being bullied that got attention from the Scoutmaster, not the fact that he was being bullied to begin with to cause his reaction. I have experienced this in Private and Public Schools as well as Scouts. The bullied is often more than not the one blamed for their cause of being bullied, and this needs to be addressed in the BSA through proper training and the 3 As; awareness, attitudes and activating the change. Scoutmasters need not deny that a reaction from being bullied is NOT the cause or the means for being bullied. It is the one doing the bullying that needs to be held totally accountable for staring the bullying to begin with, not the one that is reacting to being bullied.

  5. When does the BSA National organization stand up to the bullying from the outside in? We are our own organization free to make our own policies. If we change because we choose to change, then great. If we give in to whatever is socially fashionable at the time, then are we just empowering the bullies?

  6. The elephant in the room is cyber-bullying. Regardless of your political leanings, we have a very public figure who uses Twitter in a way that fits the definition of cyber-bullying; with demeaning names, taunting, and ridicule. includes this definition: Cyberbullying includes sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else.

    It’s a real tightrope to walk to have a conversation about cyber-bullying right now. I teach ethics for computer science students, and we have some pretty robust conversations about this. I hear the scouts in our unit repeating things they’ve heard on TV that were on Twitter the day before.

    However, speaking up and calling it bullying generates the type of political argument you see in earlier comments. That argument isn’t productive, because nobody is going to change their mind or someone else’s. What’s important and productive is how we talk to our youth about this.

    I don’t have an answer.


  7. One of the biggest challenges is that we need to be verbalizing to the boys what the appropriate action are and that they may be called on to be “the MAN” in a particular situation. In that I mean the one that knows what to do, is trained to do what needs to be done and prepared to do that what needs to be done. Male (and now female) scouts will have to self identify that they are empowered to interceed on the victim’s behalf “to upstand” as is the new phraseiology.

    • Keith, you are correct. To put it mildly, all members, youth and adult, will need to grow “backbones” and use them when such situations arise. Once you have been bullied, you will understand exactly what I am stating….

  8. My son has been severely bullied in Scouts and he had to leave the Troop he bridged to because of bullying. There were three key bullies in the Troop that were at different ages depending upon when they joined the Troop, and they fed off each other that spread like a cancer in the Troop. The Scoutmaster and Senior Troop Leadership took no serious action to stop it. Bullying was addressed very casually. They would lightly correct a Scout was caught but there were no serious consequences, training, education, or concerted efforts to change the Troop’s bullying culture.

    My son is currently visiting other Troops in two different Districts to try to find a Troop that lives and acts by the Scout Oath and Law. When visiting some of the Troops, there are Scouts that have called him cruel names, acted rudely, and were not friendly, courteous, kind, or cheerful. However, he has experienced a couple excellent Troops where the Scouts were very friendly and welcoming and did not bully him at all.

    In my experience not only in Scouts but in the workplace, it only takes one bully to ruin a Troop or a Department. They spread their bullying ways to where people don’t even realize they are doing it until its too late.

    In my opinion, there has to be zero tolerance for bullying in the BSA. SMs, ASMs, SPLs, ASPLs, all Scouts and Scouters must unite to not tolerate bullying. It can not be handled lightly or un-checked. It must be faced with relentless vigor to stamp it out.

    The BSA must put together a solid anti-bullying campaign that incorporates Adult and Youth Training, as well as positive reinforcement skills that promotes and recognizes when Scouts and Scouts live and act by the Scout Oath and Law, which will foster the right behavior and does not tolerate bullying behavior.

    I am helping my son find his next Troop and I remain hopeful that he will and it will be a Troop that has a solid culture of living and acting they way a Scout should; the way Baden Powell has taught us.

  9. Bryan, where does the BSA provide concrete cub and scout age appropriate instructions into how to be upstanders? Where are skills to teach and learn? It may seem intuitive to adults, but the scouts need instruction.

    And to other commenters, all the instances of past wrongs, and the current climate and the changes coming are the reasons we need to stress this. The scouts need to learn how to not bully and how to help a victim and how to help a bully change their ways. We are all in this together.

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