Bullying Prevention – A Positive Approach

Matt Wilhelm is a nationally recognized speaker on the topic of bullying. He appeared in Cartoon Network’s award winning documentary Stop Bullying: Speak Up with President Obama.

However, his program is more than just an anti-bullying “Don’t do that” type of assembly. He focuses more on social-emotional learning. Students will learn about empathy, resilience, and respect. Kindness is the key to preventing bullying.

His main focus is not on the kids who bully or even on their targets, but rather on everyone else… the bystanders. Those are the students who have the most power and can actually make a real and immediate difference. Matt transforms bystanders into heroes.

Matt Wilhelm performing an anti-bulllying school assembly.
In order to get through to your audience you must first gain their respect

Key Takeaways

  • Kindness is the key to stopping bullying
  • Bullying: What it is and what it is not
  • The myth of “Just Joking”
  • Heroes use their power / Bystanders give it away
  • Respect: the most important principle
  • The power of words / Think before you speak
  • How to be an “Upstander” in a safe way
  • Resilience: the key to overcoming life’s challenges

The Long Story Short

Growing up Matt was made fun of for being “different” and riding BMX. He was going to quit riding BMX altogether after an intense bullying episode at the local dirt jumps.

However, another BMX rider had the courage to stand up for him and include him into the group. This one small act of kindness changed Matt’s life. Matt Wilhelm’s anti-bullying program empowers kids to stand up for others, stand up for themselves, and be everyday heroes.

Matt encourages every student to be a hero by doing something small that can make a big difference. He says, “You can be somebody’s hero. You can be somebody’s Batman.”

Hi Matt, I'm Ben from Ellsworth Middle School. I am really proud to say that after you came everyone stopped bullying me and I just want to say thank you.

Ben B. - Middle School Student (Received via Facebook)

Things in our school got way better all because of you. I can't believe you have made a huge difference for not only me, but for everyone. I found strength and comfort from your words. You gave me hope when I lost my way and helped me see things in a positive way. You know words can't even describe how thankful I am right now.

Rafia - Middle School Student (Received via Instagram)

Watch Matt’s School Assembly Preview


Additional Information

Matt Wilhelm has been speaking about bullying since 2006… before it was trendy. He has seen the topic of bullying rise in popularity during that time. While this recent attention is great for the overall cause, many speakers and entertainers have jumped on the anti-bullying bandwagon with mixed results.

Other programs make things worse by offering mediocre advice, giving the wrong information, or simply rattling off statistics about how many kids are being bullied. Giving statistics about bullying is not going to change anyone’s behavior. Often this makes the problem worse because kids get fatigued hearing about bullying and become apathetic. That’s why it’s so important to get the right person to talk about this critical issue.

Matt’s mission is to change hearts and minds. Below are the philosophies and thoughts behind his program.

Overuse of the Word “Bully”

The word “bully” is overused in today’s culture. Matt seldom uses the word “bully” and never refers to anyone directly as a “bully” Bullying is a complex issue and labeling a kid as a “bully” is not accurate.

Matt uses the word “bully” only to describe what bullying is and what it is not. He might also say “The kids who bullied me” rather than “the bullies.” Referring to certain children as “bullies” continues to perpetuate the stereotype that only bad kids are bullies.

In reality the role of bully and target often can switch during a child’s life. A target one year can become the perpetrator the next. The issue isn’t as black and white as many would like to believe.

Matt Wilhelm's 8th grade photo.
Matt may have been a target, but he was not a victim

Victim vs. Target

Although Matt went through a tough time, you will never hear him refer to himself as a “victim.” Instead Matt uses the word “target.” What’s the difference?

A victim is someone who feels powerless and unable to change their current situation. This mindset perpetuates a negative self-image.

A target on the other hand can conquer and overcome their challenges. You can take your best shot at a target and still miss.

Being the target of a bullying situation does not mean that the instigators have won, as a target you can still come out on top.

Victims are powerless, while targets are resilient.

Hope for Targets and Victims

Many times we only hear the negative outcomes of bullying stories. The media and news organizations love to focus on these negative stories as they truly are often heartbreaking.

However, while these stories are sad and should be told, what kind of message does it send to young people? Do bullied kids begin to think that drastic measures such as suicide or school shootings are an option for revenge? Do these stories leave kids thinking there is no hope?

That’s why Matt believes that his story needs to be heard, too. His story has a happy ending. Kids need to hear a story of someone who went through a very difficult time, and not only came out on the other side, but also came out even stronger.

Matt’s story is truly unforgettable. Targets and victims walk away empowered and ready to bounce back from whatever life throws their way.

The thing that really amazed and inspired me was your story. I got bullied everyday last year... Your story yesterday inspired me so much to never give up!

Whenever I want to give up I will think MATT and I will keep pushing no matter what anybody says!! Once again THANK YOU FOR THE WORDS I needed to hear!Morgan - Middle School Student (Received via Instagram)

Matt Wilhelm speaking at a school assembly about bullying.
Matt speaking about turning from a bystander into a hero

Turning Bystanders Into Heroes

Kids and teens are constantly told to stand up for one another and do the right thing. While this is a great idea, there is usually one key component missing: WHY? Why should they? Why should they risk all of their social status and popularity to stick their neck out for someone else?

Many times students already know what to do; they just need to be motivated to do it.

Enter… Matt Wilhelm. Matt believes there is a hero inside each and every person. The challenge is bringing the hero to the outside.

Luckily kids are bombarded with superheroes every single day. If you can make them realize that they can be heroes too, by doing something small, they are more likely to act.

Being a hero doesn’t necessarily mean having to speak up directly to the kids who are doing the bullying. Many times a less risky action will have a bigger impact. Matt encourages students to stand up for one another in a safe way.

Here are some simple ways to be a hero:

  • Sit down next to a student that nobody wants to sit with at lunch
  • Include someone into the group that everyone else pushes away
  • Say something nice to the student who everyone else ridicules
  • Tell an adult
  • Be a friend to someone in need

Kids are more likely to stand up for someone if it doesn’t seem so intimidating. Plus, Matt gets the idea across that being a hero is so much cooler than just being popular.

Follow Up Materials – Hero Inside

Matt Wilhelm’s school assembly program also includes Hero Inside, a FREE video series and discussion guide for teachers to use in the classroom.

Matt’s program is meant to last longer than just 45-minutes.  The messages and lessons can last a lifetime and can improve student behavior and school culture.

Students are constantly told to stand up for one another, but they are often not told how.  Many anti-bullying programs don’t address the fears that students may have when standing up for someone.

Hero inside helps students overcome their fears of standing up for others.  It gets to the heart of why students are bystanders, builds courage, and give concrete strategies and actions to stop a bullying situation.

Each Hero Inside lesson includes a short 3-5 minute video, key points, and discussion questions / role playing scenarios. Here is some additional information about Hero Inside:

  • Grade level specific
  • Strategies on how to safely speak up in a bullying situation
  • Role playing situations
  • Shows what bullying looks like
  • Builds courage
  • Gets to the heart of why students are bystanders
  • Gets students to overcome their fears of speaking up
  • Gives concrete actions on how to stop a bullying situation

This can be a very effective tool for teachers to use and amplify Matt’s message.