information for parents

Bystanders Role in Bullying


Bullying situations usually involve more than the bully and the victim. They also involve bystanders – those who watch bullying or hear about it. Bystanders can be peers, teachers, parents, or even an adult that does not have a direct relationship to the parties but may have witnessed an incident.

Depending on how bystanders respond, they can contribute to the problem or to the solution. Bystanders rarely play a completely neutral role, although they may think they do. Bystanders’ actions make a critical difference. Children and adults should think ahead about what they will do when they witness or hear about bullying.

Hurtful Bystanders

Some bystanders…instigate the bullying by prodding the bully to begin.
Other bystanders…encourage the bullying by laughing, cheering, or making comments that further stimulate the bully.
And other bystanders…join in the bullying once it has begun.
Most bystanders… passively accept bullying by watching and doing nothing. Often without realizing it, these bystanders also contribute to the problem. Passive bystanders provide the audience a bully craves and the silent acceptance that allows bullies to continue their hurtful behavior.

Helpful Bystanders

Some bystanders…directly intervene by discouraging the bully, defending the victim, or redirecting the situation away from bullying.
Other bystanders…get help, by rallying support of their peers to stand up against bullying or by reporting the bullying to adults.
Bullying stops within 10 seconds of a bystander stepping in to help in over 50% of incidents.

Bystanders who don’t intervene or don’t report the bullying often suffer negative consequences themselves. They may experience:
• Pressure to participate in the bullying
• Anxiety about speaking to anyone about the bullying
• Powerlessness to stop bullying
• Vulnerability to becoming victimized
• Fear of associating with the victim, the bully, or the bully’s friends
• Guilt for not having defended the victim.

Why don’t bystanders take action?
• Some are afraid of getting hurt themselves.
• Some may worry that the bully will switch gears and begin targeting them.
• Some feel that by intervening they will only make the situation worse.
• Some may fear being labeled a ‘snitch’ if they report bullying they may have witnessed or been made aware of.
• Some may not like the victim and feel the victim deserves to be bullied.
• Some do not know what to do.

Preparing Young People to Become Helpful Bystanders
Adults can prepare young people to become helpful bystanders by discussing with them the different ways bystanders can make a difference, and by letting them know that adults will support them, if and when they step forward. To empower bystanders, teach them to:
• Recognize bullying behavior.
• Refuse to participate or encourage the bullying behavior. You may be adding fuel to the fire. If you aren’t comfortable trying to step in and stop the bullying, then walk away and find someone who may be better equipped to step in and stop it. Never resort to violence.
• Report the bullying incident. Report it to someone in a position of authority. If the incident is not addressed, then find someone else to report it to.