Curiosity, Empathy, Implicit Bias, Bystander Effect and Preventing Tragedies


After reading about the tragic attack and death of Nex Benedict, a 16 year old non-binary student in Oklahoma, I sat down to write another blog post about why we need to take care of our gender diverse community and how to support our gender diverse teens at a time when their very existence is challenged. Then I thought again.

Instead, this blog post is for parents and their teens who are NOT gender diverse. We need to talk about curiosity and empathy, implicit bias, and the bystander effect. We need to reflect on what actions we are taking to counter the implicit bias in our own thoughts and behaviors. This is a blog post is a call to action… to learn more… to do better… to understand how our behavior can save lives.

Curiosity and Empathy

Empathy is our ability to put ourselves into someone else’s shoes. If our kids can do this, they will be more likely to replace fear with curiosity. Can we imagine what it is like to be the other person?  Are we curious about the ways their life is different than ours? Can we understand “The Danger of the Single Story” and not stereotype a group based on limited knowledge?

Empathy allows us to connect socially, regulate our emotions, and it promotes helping behaviors. Those are all important for success as an adult. The great news is that empathy can easily be practiced and improved. Here are some tips for practicing empathy from Verywell:

-practice listening to people without interrupting

-try to understand people, even when you don’t agree with them

-look for ways you are similar to others rather than focusing on differences

-engage in new experiences which gives you better insight

What are you doing to help your child/teen practice their empathy skills? How are you strengthening your own? Do you have tips to share with others?

Implicit Bias

Implicit bias is the term used to describe the hidden biases we all carry from a lifetime of exposure to cultural attitudes. It shapes our perceptions of social groups- without our awareness or conscious control. It informs our likes and dislikes and our judgements about people’s character, abilities, and potential.

More great news! We can also actively work on reducing our own implicit bias. Here are some ways you can counter implicit bias that will work for you and your kids/teens.

Using Inclusive Language

Expose yourself to Counter Stereotyping Imagery

Evaluate how Welcoming your space is

Empower Mentors for Underrepresented Groups

Use Social Media to Amplify Diverse Voices

Identify People of Underrepresented Groups that You Admire

Put Systems in Place to Counter Automatic Preferences

Want to learn more about your own implicit biases? Take this test. When I did, I was surprised.

How can you incorporate this information into your life? Reflect on what voices you amplify on social media (and do the same with your kids/teens). Take in an art exhibit by artists who don’t have the same life experiences as you. If you are local, there is an interactive Black History event in Durham this weekend that is free and kid-friendly!

Bystander Effect

Someone who witnesses bullying, in person or online, is a bystander. Bystanders can see what is happening and intervene, interrupt, or speak up to stop the bullying. There are many great resources on how to help when you are a bystander. Here are some ideas from

Prevention steps include:

Being inclusive by welcoming others to join their activities and groups
Being a role model for pro-social behavior by showing kindness, respect, and empathy for others.
Walking or sitting with or near vulnerable kids who may be targets of bullying.
Getting involved with bullying prevention efforts at school or in the community

Bystander interventions during a bullying incident may include:

Defending the target of the bullying
Intervening as a group
Changing the subject
Questioning the bullying behavior
Using humor to lighten up a serious situation
Openly stating an objection to bullying
Stating approval of the victim and validating his or her social status

Bystanders can address bullying after it happens by:

Reaching out privately to the target of the bullying to express support or concern
Reporting the bullying to a trusted adult, parent, teacher, or school administrator
Reaching out privately to the person doing the bullying to express concern, if they feels safe to do so

What have you taught your kids/teens about being a bystander? You can start the conversation by asking about things they have witnessed in school.

As the parent of a gender diverse young adult, my heart is breaking for Nex’s family and friends, and for all of the kids and teens out there who have to fear bodily harm or death because of their gender. You can help. Pick one idea from this blog post and talk to your kids/teens about it this weekend. Do it for them and do it for Nex.


About Author

Lisa Allred

Work Life Program Manager

Lisa Allred comes to SAS with a long history of working with families throughout the lifespan. After receiving her undergraduate degree at Wake Forest Universtity and her Masters in Social Work from UNC-CH, her career began as a child therapist focusing on parenting, anxiety and trauma. She then moved into college counseling where she emphasized student wellness and balance.


  1. Lisa, thank you for this. I think sometimes we feel so overwhelmed with these tragedies and it feels like there's not much we can do. These prevention and intervention steps are so helpful!

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