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Bystanders either help or hurt. They are not neutral even though they think they are. Bystanders can be peers, teachers, parents, or even someone who does not have a direct relationship to the parties but may have witnessed an incident.

Bystanders' actions make a critical difference. In over 50% of the incidents, bullying stops within 10 seconds of a bystander stepping in. Children and adults should think ahead about what they will do when they witness or hear about bullying.

Helpful Bystanders...

  • directly intervene by discouraging the bully, defending the victim, or redirecting the situation away from bullying.
  • rally the support of their peers to stand up against bullying
  • get help by reporting the bullying to school authorities

Hurtful Bystanders...

  • often instigate the bullying by prodding the bully
  • often encourage the bullying by laughing or provoking the bully.
  • sometimes join in the bullying once it has begun.
  • passively accept bullying by watching and doing nothing. Without realizing it, these bystanders contribute to the problem. They are the audience a bully craves and the silent acceptance that allows bullies to continue their hurtful behavior.

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, encourage, or passively watch the bullying behavior.
  • report the bullying incident to someone in a position of authority.
  • decide beforehand how they can step in safely or go get help instead
  • never, of course, resort to violence.