A Video Game Teaches Kids to Outsmart Bullies

October 4, 2012

SPRINGFIELD, Mo.– If you look through the pages of an old school yearbook, chances are you’ll be able to identify at least a few people who were bullies. You may even recall situations when you, your friends or other students were targeted by a bully. You might even have been a bully yourself.

These days, with an increase in school violence, the safety and security of students is a top concern for parents, educators and the community. It’s why October has been set aside as National Bullying Prevention Month. Bullying is no longer dismissed as an inevitable part of growing up. Instead, experts view bullying as a form of violence among children with serious physical, psychological and academic ramifications.

“We know that students who’ve experienced bullying are likely to experience anxiety,” said Dr. John Essman, Mercy doctor of psychology. “They may refuse to go to school, experience depression, low self-esteem and hopelessness. Part of this is often because of the number of silent bystanders who do nothing. This adds to the humiliation for the victim and empowerment for the bully.”

That’s exactly what the first-ever interactive, pro-social mobile game hopes to address. Mercy and HealthTeacher—an online curriculum resource—have launched “Awesome Upstander!” The video game is designed for elementary-aged children. It encourages young kids to race through a school cafeteria and bathroom to help rescue a target from a bully. Along the way, players must collect enough friends to stand up to the bully together.

“Awesome Upstander! offers a highly entertaining play experience for kids while teaching them they have the power to diminish bullying by banding together as upstanders," said John Herbold, VP Product of HealthTeacher. "Kids tell us Awesome Upstander! is fun to play and parents say it gives them peace of mind knowing their children are learning how to deal with an issue affecting the emotional and physical safety of their kids."

Filled with challenges, levels, hidden objects and fun sound effects, Awesome Upstander! is designed to engage kids just like other popular interactive games while promoting social good. The adventure introduces the concept of “upstanders” – people who safely and positively intervene in a bully situation – through a fun and entertaining play experience. Studies suggest it only takes the support of three bystanders to change the dynamic in a bully situation.

“The value of this game comes in several ways,” said Dr. Essman. “It encourages collaborative, non-violent empowerment when the character finds others and sends the message, ‘We don’t like that in this school!’ It also helps the bullied character get away from the bully, and encourages the child to get adults to intervene.”

Adults play a critical role in helping to prevent bullying by talking about it, creating safe school environments and identifying prevention strategies. But it’s also important that children feel empowered and understand how to work together with peers to address bullying situations. Bullying often occurs where adult supervision is scarce—in the cafeteria, hallway, bathroom, bus, playground, or off school property. The hope is that learning these skills at a young age will better prepare children to address situations during the middle and high school years when bullying is most common. It’s also important to keep the lines of communication open so if a child encounters a real-life bullying experience, he or she will seek support from an adult.

AwesomeUpstander! can be played online for free at www.awesomeupstander.com or purchased in the Apple App Store or Google Play for $.99.

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