Have you ever stood around and noticed that someone was being bullied, but you weren’t sure what you could do? Have you thought that nothing you could do would make a difference?

In Friendly Schools research, 91% of children reported having witnessed bullying occurring. Peers have also been observed to be present during most bullying incidents in the schoolyard. Furthermore, research suggests that more than half of students who report being bullied once a week or more do not tell their teachers.

What are bystanders?
Bullying involves more than the students who are bullied and those who bully. Other students have been observed to be present during most bullying incidents in the school grounds. These students are bystanders: the people who see, support or know the bullying is going on.
Bystanders can be:

  • the friends in the peer group of the person bullying
  • the friends in the group of the person being bullied
  • people who see the bullying going on
  • people who are aware of the bullying

Bystanders may act in many different ways. A bystander might:

  • watch what is going on and not get involved
  • pretend not to see and ignore the situation
  • choose to get involved in the bullying
  • choose to get involved and stop the bullying
  • choose to get help

As bystanders, students can either support bullying in the way they behave or help to stop bullying.

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Why don’t more bystanders step in to stop bullying?
When some students were asked what stops them from helping other students who are bullied, the most common answers were ‘It’s none of my business’ and ‘I didn’t want to get involved’.

However, when asked if they wanted to stop the bullying, most students said, ‘Yes, I don’t like to see people being bullied’. These students don’t like the bullying but are not sure if they should help or what to do to help the person being bullied.

It’s important to remember that bullying can be made worse if students don’t do anything. Everyone needs to take responsibility and respond to bullying behaviour by not remaining silent. Instead they should talk about the issue.

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What should I do if I see bullying occurring?
Bystanders have the power to help stop bullying!

People who bully thrive on the peer group and bystanders who either support or do nothing to stop the bullying. When the audience of bystanders and peers gives the person bullying all the power and attention they crave this to make them feel powerful.

Everyone needs to be responsible for their own actions when they are a bystander to a bullying incident. You also need to know that you will face negative consequences if you decide to join in with or support a person bullying. This could be by laughing at the bullying incident, cheering on or encouraging the person bullying, teasing the person being bullied or taking part in the bullying situation in any other way.

As bystanders to bullying, students have to make a decision as to whether they will be part of the problem or part of the solution. Research shows that when bystanders do step in the bullying can be stopped within ten seconds. Don’t stand and watch bullying. If you see someone being bullied:

  • Let the person doing the bullying know what they are doing is bullying and that it is wrong.
  • Refuse to join in with their bullying and walk away.
  • Ask a teacher or support person for help.
  • There are also things you can do in the aftermath of bullying to support the student who is being bullied:
  • Persuade the person being bullied to talk to an adult who will listen – this may be a teacher or a parent.
  • Encourage the person being bullied to talk to you about what is happening.
  • Do not tell the person being bullied to deal with the problem on their own.
  • Offer to speak to an adult on the bullied person’s behalf.
  • Let the students bullying know that you know what is going on.

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Is it safe to try and stop bullying?
Many students say they are worried that if they try to step in to help someone who is being bullied that they might end up being bullied or hurt themselves. It is important to look about the situation first to decide what the risks are and what decision you should make. Always consider your safety and the safety of others before you act by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Is it safe?
  • Is it fair to all involved?
  • How does it make you feel?
  • How does it make others feel?
  • Does it solve the problem without creating more problems?
  • Do I need to talk to someone in my support group?

Remember: if the situation doesn’t feel safe, the best thing you can do is seek help from a trusted adult.

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What if it is my friend who is doing the bullying?
People who bully are generally not happy, healthy people. So, by letting your friend continue to be involved in bullying without trying to do something to stop it, you are not really helping your friend.

We know that many students who bully do it because they are trying to be popular and have power over others. Students who have good close friendships usually don’t need to bully other people to feel better. To help your friend to stop bullying, you need to provide positive support by being honest and helping them to find better ways to feel good about themselves.

During Friendly Schools research, students suggested that their peers could follow these steps to discourage a friend from bullying:

  • Tell the student what they are doing is bullying.
  • Let them know they don’t need to do this to the person.
  • Suggest you go and do something else together.

For example: ‘You are bullying that person. You don’t need to do that. Why don’t you just leave them alone and come hang out with me somewhere else.’

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What if my friend wants me to join in with their bullying?
It can be really difficult if your friends try to pressure you into helping them bully someone. One of the main reasons students give in to this pressure is because they are afraid they will lose their friendships and not fit into the group.

Students who bully need to have support and will often try to get their friends involved in the bullying too. Sometimes they even try to get their friends to do the bullying for them so they don’t get into trouble themselves.

If your friend or group is telling or asking you to do something you know is wrong, or to do something you feel uncomfortable about, then you need to think carefully about your choices and decide whether this is really worth it. A good rule is if it makes you feel bad it is probably bad for you.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when dealing with friends who want you to bully:

  • Politely refuse, don’t yell. A simple, firm ‘No, I’m not interested’ or ‘No, I don’t want to be involved’ will usually be good enough.
  • Don’t over-explain your response. If your peers are doing something you really don’t want to do, just say ‘I don’t want to’ and leave it at that. If it is really bothering you, talk to your parents about it later.
  • Don’t put yourself at risk. If the situation is way out of control try to quietly and discreetly walk away to get help.
  • Remember, you are the person who has to live with your choices and the consequences of your actions. Think carefully what is right for you.
  • If someone keeps pressuring you to do things that you really are uncomfortable with and doesn’t seem to care how it makes you feel, you may need to think about whether this person is really a friend.

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