Friday, February 6, 2015

Teen Vogue Headshot

The Bystander Effect: Why You Don't Stand Up When You Should

by Courtney Lindstrand, TEEN VOGUE
Expert tips on how to take a stand when you see someone being bullied.

Bullying is an intimidating, deplorable problem, whether it's playing out in the high school cafeteria or around the internship water cooler. But when you're not the bullied party yourself, it can be tough to know exactly how to handle it -- which is one reason that people often don't step in. Another one? When you see someone being victimized, you tend to think someone else will intervene. Psychologists call this the "bystander effect," and it happens when your brain creates a rationale around why you shouldn't take a stand.
But the truth is that you can't count on anyone else to take the lead: Sometimes it has to be you. And since we know that's not always the easiest thing to do, we chatted with Julie Hertzog, the director of PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center, to get her tips on what to do when you see a super uncool situation unfolding, and how to step in without getting caught in the crossfire.

First off: Recognize that yes, it is your problem.
This is not Switzerland, and you are not a neutral party: When bullying is happening at your school, it's everyone's problem. That kind of behavior was a tolerated part of social culture among teens and kids for a long time, "But now we're realizing that there are really serious not only short term consequences, but long term effects on our society as well," says Hertzog. Since it impacts everybody, it's also each individual's responsibility to stand up and stop it. Consider this: Do you really want your school -- a place where you spend nearly half your day -- to feel unsafe, or unwelcoming? We didn't think so.

Look for subtle ways to reach out to bullying victims.
Sure, it seems sort of shallow, but bystanders are often understandably afraid that speaking up on behalf of someone being bullied can negatively impact their social status (we've got two words for you: Regina George). But even if you don't say something in the moment, you can still help in subtle ways -- like reaching out to the victim directly. It's quick and easy to send a text to someone who just got an earful from your school's biggest jerk. Let them know you're on their side, allow a bud who's being picked on lean on you and stay supportive so they can build the necessary confidence to stop the abuse cycle.

Strike while the iron is cool.
It takes guts to stand up to a bully when they're actively harassing someone else, in no small part because situations like that can get heated fast. But you don't have to jump into the middle of an explosive situation to help, explains Hertzog, noting that you can still be effective while remaining more covert in your efforts to help -- and that there's no need to put yourself in harm's way. In not-so-safe situations, your best bet is to alert an authority figure and then wait until things calm down before becoming involved.

Remember that a safe, supportive environment is your right.
One last thing Hertzog thinks students should know? "Almost every state in our nation has a bullying prevention law that says students have the right to be safe at school." Being personally knowledgeable about these laws and what they entitle you to can help you tip off a victim to their options, or even talk to school officials about how they can take steps toward shutting down a bullying problem in your school (organizations like Hertzog's can help get you started -- head over to the site for more info). The bottom line? There's no reason to be a bullying bystander when you can be part of the solution instead.

Friday, January 30, 2015

David, age 3, waiting to board the bus for preschool.


At age 3, David didn't walk; he scooted. He could sit on his behind and motor those crisscrossed legs across a wooden floor faster than most people could walk. Kids usually wear out the soles of their shoes, but not David – he wore holes in the seat of his pants and on the outside canvas of his high-tops, all the while keeping the triangle pattern on the bottom of his shoes completely intact.

Did I ever worry that he would walk? Sure. Did it ever make me sad? Of course. Most parents want more for their children, and I'm right there with them.
David, running the 200 meter dash.

That was 15 years ago.
Did David finally walk? He did. Before his next birthday, David was up on two legs and soon after that he starting running. In fact, by age 5, he loved speed so much that when I brought him to a store, he would run. He would race around the park. He would run during school – and not just during recess, but out the door of his classroom and through the halls. He constantly raced all over our house. When he ran, he not only smiled – he laughed out loud. His absolute joy and delight saved me from being frustrated that I had to continually chase him down and find him. As a middle-schooler he ran competitively on his school track team and he now runs with his Special Olympic team competing at a local and state level.

I share this story today on my 15th anniversary of working for PACER Center. At the same time that David starting walking, I first walked the halls of our offices. As a disability advocacy organization, we promote hiring parents of children with disabilities, and like so many of my colleagues, I have been inspired by the unique life experience of raising of a child with a disability.
It is my hope that I can continue to look at the world through the same lens as David and to always remember one of the many lessons that he taught me: It may take a while to learn how to walk, but when you do, you might start running – and you should always remember to do it with joy.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Borrowed Brains: Q&A with Julie Hertzog, founder of National Bullying Prevention Month

Communities In Schools is doing its part to end bullying, but we’re hardly the only ones. Of all the awareness events out there, National Bullying Prevention Month is probably one of the most successful I’ve ever seen. From traditional media to social media, it’s going to seem like everyone is focused on this one very important issue in October.

Given that kind of traction, you might be surprised to know that National Bullying Prevention Month is less than 10 years old, and it all began with one concerned mother at the PACER Center, a Minnesota nonprofit focused on children with disabilities.

For this edition of “Borrowed Brains,” we spoke with Julie Hertzog, Director of PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center.

Q: You had a very personal reason for getting involved in this issue. Can you tell me about that?
A: Oftentimes people assume I took up this issue because I was bullied as a kid, but it’s actually much deeper than that. My son David has Down syndrome. When it was time for him to start kindergarten he had a lot of obvious differences from the other kids: He had a feeding tube and a pacemaker and he didn’t talk, he was non-verbal. I knew from my generation that kids with differences were really vulnerable in school, and I just couldn’t let that be his experience. If anyone had the right to be safe at school, it was him and others like him. So David was my passion and my inspiration for getting involved with the PACER Center and the bullying issue in particular.

Q: National Bullying Prevention Month only started in 2006, but it’s really taken on a life of its own, hasn’t it? Tell me about the growth you’ve seen.
A: PACER Center has been around since the 1970s, when the IDEA act gave children with disabilities the right to attend school. PACER was founded to help parents understand their rights and get the best education for their children.

Our connection to bullying started around 2000 when we noticed more parents were contacting us about bullying situations in school. At that time, bullying was considered a natural part of growing up. We said, “No, that’s not right. All kids have the right to be safe.” That’s when we founded the National Bullying Prevention Center with the belief that you can change behavior by changing the culture. And you change the culture by raising awareness, starting conversations, and providing education.

A few years later we looked around and realized there weren’t any national awareness events going on, so our board encouraged us to design a week. The first National Bullying Prevention Week was launched back in October of 2006. We chose October because we wanted to talk about the bullying issue early in the year, but after things had settled down from back-to-school season. From the start had great national partners, including the National PTA and the National Education Association. They really helped us push things forward, and by 2010 there was such a demand for these conversations that we evolved it to a full month.

I think one reason this has caught on is that we try to be thoughtful and positive in what we do. We work with schools and parents and kids, encouraging everyone to come together to prevent bullying. We want students to take ownership of this issue, and we’ve just redesigned two of our websites, Kids Against Bullying and Teens Against Bullying to speak even more directly to the ones who are most affected by this.

Bullying is also an issue that touches almost everyone in some way. Maybe they experienced it themselves, or maybe their children, or maybe they witnessed it and wanted to help. National Bullying Prevention Month provides that opportunity for anyone to get involved in the conversation. We engage the broader community because the No. 1 question we get is, “How can I help?” We try to provide accessible, inexpensive resources for anyone who wants to get involved, whether it’s wearing orange on Unity Day [Oct. 21], signing a digital petition, or joining one of our Run Walk Roll Against Bullying events across the country.

Q: You developed a peer advocacy approach that enlists student volunteers to act as a voice for those who are different. Is it only the “popular kids” who become advocates? I’m wondering if something like this might provide some marginalized, at-risk kids with a sense of purpose for staying in school.
A: I love this question! Let me go back to my personal story: When David was ready to enter middle school, we realized that the dynamic was going to change. He’d be changing classes, so he wouldn’t be with the same teacher in the same, safe classroom all the time. David was still non-verbal, but he had made a lot of friends, and I saw that those friends could become his eyes and ears and voice throughout the day in a way that no adult ever could.

We decided to train four kids who liked David to help and advocate and report any problems to a teacher. Ironically, only one of those was what I would call a leader or a “popular kid.” The others were just good kids who wanted to do the right thing. Anyway, they started talking to their friends about what they were doing, and within a month it grew from four kids to 16 kids, just by word of mouth. By the end of 6th grade, 51 kids asked to be involved; they weren’t recruited, they came to us.
We started this effort for kids like David with obvious differences, but we found that some of the advocates had differences of their own that were more subtle – maybe ADHD or dyslexia or some other learning or developmental disability. They created an amazing group dynamic, reinforcing support for each other. When the year was over, we did exit surveys and 100% of the advocates said they felt like they helped to improve someone else’s life, and 100% wanted to do it again next year. So being an advocate for others gave them a sense of purpose that went beyond the normal concerns of the school day.

Q: Finally, what’s the role for adults in all of this? In thousands of schools nationwide, we have trained Site Coordinators who form personal relationships with at-risk students. If they could do or say one thing to help prevent bullying, what would it be?
Great question and it’s a challenge to pick just one thing. My instinct though is to share that it’s so important that for any student who has ever felt vulnerable, or isolated, that they know that they are not alone. They need to know that someone cares, that there are people who will help them. To be the person in a role in which you literally change a young person’s life by letting them know they are supported is really powerful.

Monday, August 25, 2014


Bullies and Bystanders What Experts Say




Special thanks to Be Smart. Be Well. for Detective Hollendoner of the Chicago Police Department and me in their important new video Bullying: Stand Up, Don’t Stand By.

Julie Hertzog

Julie Hertzog
Director, PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center

Julie Hertzog is a nationally recognized leader on bullying prevention. As director of the National Bullying Prevention Center, she has led the development of a variety of curricula and resources, including creating content for the Center’s innovative websites, and, which were designed to engage, educate and inspire students. In 2012, she was appointed as a member and co-chair of Minnesota’s Governor’s Task Force on the Prevention of School Bullying; and in 2013, she was an external reviewer for “Bullying Surveillance Among Youths: Uniform Definitions for Public Health and Recommended Data Elements,” developed by the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the United States Department of Education.

Charles F. Hollendoner

Det. Charles F. Hollendoner
Chicago Police Department

Detective Charles F. Hollendoner is a 22-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department. He has been assigned for the past 13 years as a Detective in the Special Investigations Unit. He is also a member of Cook County’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and the Chicago Police Department’s Internet Child Exploitation Team. He has conducted numerous Internet Safety Presentations to elementary and high schools students, as well as community leaders and parents throughout Chicago.
The viewpoints expressed here by Det. Hollendoner are his own and not those of the Chicago Police Department.


Friday, June 27, 2014


I love this story, posted in TELESCOPE magazine, because it shows that some of our most powerful lessons are those that we learn from our children.

blog_julie hertzog

By Heather Ronaldson
Before Julie Hertzog’s son, David, turned three years old, he had already undergone three open heart surgeries, a tracheotomy and required a breathing ventilator. David was born with Down syndrome.
 “There was no doubt about it: My son wasn’t like his peers,” said Hertzog in a self-authored article online in 2010.
As David was preparing to enter kindergarten, Hertzog feared that David would become “a poster child for children expected to be the targets of bullying,” she said, as David was nonverbal, had delayed cognitive abilities and received his nutrition from a feeding tube.
Instead of sitting on the sidelines and watching, Hertzog decided to do something about it. She became David’s advocate: talking with students, faculty and staff to educate them about Down syndrome.
“I remembered how kids with disabilities were treated in my generation, so I didn’t want that to be his experience,” said Hertzog.
Hertzog joined the PACER Center, a resource for children and young adults with disabilities and their families in 2000 and soon after headed its National Center for Bullying Prevention in Minnesota. Through it, Hertzog has created replicable peer advocacy programs for students across the country in the same way peers first helped David.
“The concept sounds simple, but because my son can’t tell me what happens during the day, I depend heavily on these peers to act as his voice. Now, what started as four kids in sixth grade has evolved to a school-wide project with more than 40 students volunteering to become peer advocates so they can help David and other students who are different,” said Hertzog in her article.
“It had amazing outcomes,” said Hertzog.
The peer advocacy model is now available online so other schools can create programs in their cities.
David is 17 now. “He is always at the core of my thoughts when I’m thinking about anything,” said Hertzog.
Hertzog has developed classroom toolkits, curricula and other resources through the National Bullying Prevention Center. She also created nationally recognized events such as PACER’S National Bullying Prevention Month, Unity Day and Rock, Walk, Roll Against Bullying, in October.
On Unity Day, people are encouraged to wear the color orange to show solidarity, said Hertzog. “That event has continued to grow and evolve and we expect it to be bigger than ever.”
Measuring the success of anti-bullying programs isn’t easy, as “we are looking to change the social paradigm,” said Hertzog.
But there are positive outcomes.“People are starting to understand the topic better than before. We’re starting to see real change happening. That to me is so encouraging.”
Hertzog recalled one year when Blue Earth, Minnesota was temporarily referred to as “Orange Earth” in honor of bullying prevention month. General Mills even dressed its 55-foot Jolly Green Giant statue, which stands in Blue Earth, in orange.
Hertzog said one student said, “I wish the Green Giant would wear orange year-round so it’s not an issue today, but an issue year-round.”
While her work can be overwhelming, Hertzog said that in those moments, she looks through the lens of her son.“I look at myself first and foremost as a mom and I think that my son David has taught me to see human dignity for all regardless of who you are—that you have the right to go to school to feel safe, valued and respected. He’s been such an important piece of always keeping me grounded,” said Hertzog.

Friday, June 6, 2014

This article posted as a blog to the website provides insight into bullying and suicide.


Bullying and Suicide: What’s the Connection?

Sad teen boy is seated with a backpack.

In the past decade, headlines reporting the tragic stories of a young person’s suicide death linked in some way to bullying have become regrettably common. There is so much pain and suffering associated with each of these events, affecting individuals, families, communities and our society as a whole. There is an increasing national outcry to “do something” about the problem of bullying and suicide.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other violence prevention partners are conducting research to learn more about the relationship between these two serious public health problems with the goal of using what we have learned to save lives and prevent future suffering. One example of this work is in September 2010, the CDC brought together a panel of experts who presented research focusing on this complex relationship between youth involvement in bullying (youth who bully, youth who are bullied, and those who bully and are bullied) and suicide-related behaviors (attempts, deaths, and risk factors associated with suicide such as depression). These experts published their results in a recently released special issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health. The eight articles included in the special issue help to clarify the complicated issues surrounding bullying and suicide among youth.

This is what we DON’T know about bullying and suicide:
  • We don’t know if bullying directly causes suicide.  We know that most kids who are involved in bullying do NOT engage in suicide-related behavior.  It is correct to say that involvement in bullying, along with other risk factors, can increase the chance that a young person will engage in suicide-related behaviors.
Here is what we DO know:
  • We know that bullying behavior and suicide-related behavior are related. This means youth who report any involvement with bullying behavior are more likely to report suicide-related behavior than youth who do not report any involvement with bullying behavior.
  • Discussing bullying as directly caused by or as the only cause of suicide is not helpful and is potentially harmful because…
    1. It encourages sensationalized reporting, contradicts the Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide  and potentially encouraging copycat behavior.
    2. It focuses on blaming and punishing and does not give critical attention to the necessary support and treatment youth who are involved with bullying need.
    3. It takes attention away from other important risk factors for suicidal behavior that need to be addressed (e.g., mental illnesses, coping with disease/disability, family dysfunction, etc.).
    4. It perpetuates the false notion that suicide is a natural response to being bullied, which has the dangerous potential to normalize the response and thus create “suicide contagion” among youth.
So what can we do with this information? There are public health strategies that can be applied to the prevention of bullying and suicide. For example, increasing connectedness among youth and parents, other adults, and teachers may decrease bullying and suicide behaviors.
In 2012, the Federal Partners in Bullying Prevention worked with the Suicide Prevention Resource Center to conduct a webinar on bullying and suicide. For more information, tools and resources, please visit’s Who Is At Risk section and Media Guidelines for Bullying Prevention.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act — Signed Into Law April 9, 2014

It was very moving to be a part of Governor Dayton’s historic signing of the “Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act", which took Minnesota from a 37 word statute to one of the most comprehensive laws in the nation.
This law is so important—as all students deserve to go to school and learn in an environment in which they feel safe, valued and supported. Governor Dayton summed up student rights eloquently during his speech “Nobody in this state or nation should have to feel bad about themselves for being who they are.” And 11-year-old Jake Ross stole the show with his moving words about his own experiences being bullied and his enthusiasm for the passage of the act when he voiced the thoughts of many gathered on the steps when he said, “I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time.”