How to Talk About Bullying So Teens Will Listen

An unexpected three-minute commercial about bullying changed the conversation with my ninth graders.

two people talking at a Burger King restaurant

I wanted to talk to my students about bullying in a new way, so I started with this PSA from Burger King. I know. I was surprised too. 

The public service ad was produced by Burger King with the help of NoBully.org  in 2017, and it’s a great teaching tool. The emotional three-minute video shows real customers in a Burger King watching on as a high school junior is bullied.

Meanwhile, an employee is “bullying” Whopper Jr. sandwiches—insulting the burgers, hitting them, damaging them. Customers quickly complain. “Had you seen me bullying this burger, would you have stood up and said something?” the cashier asks.

You can watch the video here:

Sure, it’s a bit silly.

The connection between bullying and a wrecked burger might be a bit of a reach, but the video does something incredibly powerful. It aims its lens not at the young people engaging in the bullying but at the adults who are bystanders. These adults, by and large, are doing absolutely nothing to stop it.

As a teacher, this struck me as profoundly sad.

After all, aren’t we the ones who tell our students, “If you’re being bullied, tell an adult! They’ll help you!”

Well, apparently we aren’t providing accurate information. According to the PSA, only 12 percent of the adults watching the young man in the video get bullied by several other boys actually stood up and helped the boy. Not exactly a reassuring statistic for the more than 30 percent of young people who report being bullied each year in our country (as well as the countless others who don’t report their bullies because they don’t believe it will help).

With all this in mind, I thought about how I might use this video with my high school students. Bullying is a significant problem in secondary grades, but talking about bullying with teenagers can be tricky. They’ve heard all the terms and reasons and mantras before. They’ve signed the pledges. They’ve engaged in the conversations. In short, they’re a bit jaded about the topic.

The video is a perfect “in” for a conversation about being an advocate instead of a bystander.

The bystanders in the video weren’t teens like my students; rather, the bystanders were adults. Aren’t they supposed to know better? What a perfect way to discuss how difficult standing up for someone else can be and why it is so important that they pledge to themselves now, as young people, to always be the person who stands up for those who are in need.

Below is a brief overview of what I did with my freshman students along with their responses. I’ve also attached links to my resources, if you’re interested in trying it out in your own classes.

Accessing Background Knowledge

My ninth graders have been talking about bullying since kindergarten. I started by asking them to do a five-minute free write of everything they knew or what came to mind when I wrote the word “bullying” on the board. We chatted as they wrote, and I noticed that, for the most part, they knew what to say. They had the lingo down and, truthfully, they sounded a bit bored about it all. (This is exactly what I had expected.)

Watching the Video

After this exercise, I asked them to watch the video and then, without talking to each other, write their responses to at least four of the following prompts:

  • What were your original thoughts and impressions of the video?
  • What did you think about the bullies, the bullied teen, and the bystanders in the video?
  • Why do you think the bystanders were so quick to complain about their “bullied” burger, but not about the bullied teen?
  • Did it surprise you how few adults stood up to help the bullied teen? Why?
  • Why do you think teens don’t get involved when they see one student harassing another student?
  • What are some solutions that might actually work to solve the problem of bullying?
  • How do you think our school might change if more people looked out for each other?
  • Would you be willing to be part of a program to help end bullying in our school? Why?

The questions not only touched on the key issues I wanted my students to reflect on from the video but they tied into our culminating activity. And by giving the students the choice of only answering four questions, I differentiated the lesson slightly so my students who struggle with coming up with ideas, who have a hard time with timed writing, or who are less motivated could meet with success as well.

Discussing and Collaborating

I usually determine groups, but this time I decided to have the groups be completely random. It seemed important to have conversations that involved new ways of thinking and feeling. Each student got a slip of paper with their rotation assignment on it. When they arrived at their stations, they found a question card, poster paper, and markers.

You can save and print the pdf of these question cards to use in your own classroom: Encouraging Teens to Stand up to Bullies with Burger King Discussion Prompts

I set a five-minute timer and asked the students to share their thoughts about the questions at their station. Then, I had them use the markers to write their main takeaways, a-ha moments, questions, or thoughts on the paper. At the next station I encouraged them to do the same thing and also respond to the comments left by previous groups.

Reflecting and Moving Forward

After the students had time to view each of the questions, we talked about some of the responses. Not surprisingly, my students expressed anger at the adults who did nothing to stop the bullying. “But that’s what happens,” one student said angrily. “The same thing happens here. Kids bully each other right in front of some teachers, and [the teachers] do nothing!” Several students agreed, while others defended teachers by saying how hard it is to catch someone bullying.

This led to our final activity, next steps. In the following days, I showed my students some examples of what other teens had done to actually make a difference in their own high schools. I showed them the  teen who created an app so no one in the school would have to eat lunch alone. Or schools that have successful peer helper groups that encourage students to create or sign up for an extracurricular club whose purpose is to combat bullying within the school.

Once students had researched several options of interest to them, I had them write a researched argument letter to our principal, stating what they thought should be done about bullying in our school. By the time they got to this part, most of my students not only wanted to write the letter they wanted to make sure our principal read the letter and responded. We invited him to come speak with us about the issue. He left with several ideas to put into practice in our building. The students felt empowered and proud of their efforts.

All thanks to a video from Burger King.

How do you talk to your secondary students about bullying? What has your school found that works? Let us know in the comments!

Posted by meghanmathis

I'm a high school English teacher, curriculum designer, and freelance writer who loves thinking, talking, debating, arguing, and laughing about education.

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