What does it mean to be a bystander to bullying?

Bullying involves more than the students who are bullied and those who bully. Other children are present during most bullying incidents in the playground. Bullying can continue because people who are involved do not talk about it and seek help. This includes bystanders. A bystander is someone who sees the bullying situation.

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, the way children behave can either support or help to stop bullying. Many children don’t know how to help the person being bullied.

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How can I talk with my children about bystanders?

Bullying can sometimes be made worse if children don’t know what to do or to whom to turn for help. Parents can help by offering to talk about the problem and providing support. Everyone needs to take responsibility and respond to bullying behaviour by not remaining silent. Instead they should talk about the issue.

When some children were asked what stops them from helping other children who are bullied, the most common answers were, ‘It’s none of my business’ and ‘I didn’t want to get involved’.

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

If children see someone being bullied, they could:

  • let the person doing the bullying know that what they are doing is bullying
  • refuse to join in with their bullying and walk away
  • support the student who is being bullied
  • ask a teacher or support person for help
  • support their friends and protect them from bullying by being there for them. Children who are alone are more likely to be the target of bullying so encourage your children to be aware of other children who are left out or on their own in the schoolyard.

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What can I do to help a child who has seen bullying?

Parents can support their children by:

  • discussing bullying (stories in books or on television can lead to discussion about bullying situations)
  • listening to their children’s point of view on the topic of bullying
  • helping their children to discuss solutions and consequences to problems they see or are involved in
  • providing advice on what might happen as a result of bullying and why it is important to tell someone
  • developing a clear family policy that ‘put downs’ are not okay
  • helping their children to understand the problem of bullying and show empathy and understanding of how people might feel if they are bullied
  • problem-solving as a whole family. This can help children feel valued and supported as well as make other family members aware of problems and possible solutions.

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What if it is my child’s friend who is bullying?

Sometimes children find themselves in a position of being a bystander to their friend or friends bullying others. They will be torn between what they believe is the right thing to do and supporting their friends. If another child wants your child to do something he or she doesn’t want to do, the other child may use some powerful persuaders:

  • threatening to ‘not be friends anymore’
  • calling your child names like chicken, wimp and so on
  • physical threats
  • rejection from the group

Being part of a group offers security and a feeling of belonging. Children learn about social skills and relationships by being part of a group. Sometimes children can feel influenced by the group to do things or behave in ways that they do not agree or feel comfortable with.

Explain to your children:

  • It is good to have friends and be part of a group.
  • Peers can sometimes try to persuade you to follow a decision that you may not agree with.
  • You can say ‘no’ to your friends and still be friends.

Training in assertive responses can also help children resist pressure and respond in ways that do not promote bullying.

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