“In the end we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Martin Luther King Jr.
Every child, in fact every adult has been a bystander at some time. A bystander is someone who witnesses bullying and doesn’t get involved. Being a bystander is easy – they aren’t the perpetrator and they are not the one being outwardly harmed or the target of the attack.
Bystanders can take on various roles in the act of bullying:
- Henchmen – Take an active part but do not plan or start the bullying
- Active supporters – Cheer on the bully and seek social or material gain
- Passive supporters – Enjoy the bullying but do not show open support
- Disengaged Onlookers – Observe and act as if it’s none of my business and may even turn away
- Potential witnesses – Oppose the bullying and know they ought to help yet do not act
Even though bystanders are not the aggressor, or the main aggressor, their actions and lack of actions have devastating effects on the target of the bully. The child being harmed feels alone and feels like those not aiding him or her don’t care.
Witnessing bullying is upsetting and affects the bystander too. Statistics say that even though most bystanders don’t like to watch bullying, less than 20% try to stop it. This happens because they don’t know what to do or there is fear around taking action. The bystander may be afraid of retaliation or becoming the target of bullying themselves. There may be worry that getting involved could have negative social consequences.
Bullying stops in less than 10 seconds, 57% of the time when someone intervenes on behalf of the victim.
So, what can a child do? It takes courage to be an upstander. Upstanders are kids who do something that prevents or reduces the bullying they see. An upstander comes to the aid of another child who is being bullied by showing them kindness. Moving from being a bystander to becoming an upstander may not happen overnight. It may start with becoming more aware of the bullying behavior and how it is affecting the lives of the victims. Upstanders are able to see the pain the target experiences and take action.
Stompoutbullying.com offers ways to bridge behavior to becoming an upstander:
- Don’t laugh
- Don’t encourage the bully in any way
- Don’t participate
- Stay at a safe distance and help the target get away
- Don’t become an “audience” for the bully
- Reach out in friendship
- Help the victim in any way you can
- Support the victim in private
- If you notice someone being isolated from others, invite them to join you
- Include the victim in some of your activities
- Tell an adult
We can model and speak to our children about upstander behavior. Doing nothing about bullying sends a message to the bully that their behavior is acceptable.
Talk to your children about what it means to be an upstander. Ask them if they have witnessed bullying. Brainstorm ideas about how they might engage the next time they see someone in need of an upstander. When we all feel empowered to take action – even a small one – we build a world of upstanders.