When we talk about bullying we usually concentrate on the bully and the victim. We talk about why the bully feels the need to torment another. We talk about what the victim should do in response to the bullying. We talk about what we, as parents need to say to our children should they be the victim or the bully.
The most important help or protagonist to any bullying situation however, can actually lie with the bystander. If we as a society are to eradicate bullying, we need to make it absolutely and unconditionally unacceptable. To do so we need to create a culture whereby a bully is the minority and that all those that are witness, refuse to accept.
There are 2 ways a bystander can respond to a bullying incident.
- An unhelpful/ negative response:
- Encourage the bully by laughing, jeering & helping to instigate the torment or
- Stand by watching, accepting and doing nothing
2. A helpful/ positive response:
- Directly intervene by urging the bully to stop
- Rallying the support of other bystanders to help intervene
- Go and seek out help or adult involvement
- Help the victim walk away
Now I know I am not alone in saying I don’t want my kid to be the one to step in every time and end up paying a price either physically or emotionally for his role in stopping the bully. But there are times when this would be appropriate and times when there are other options.
There are many reasons why kids respond in a negative or unhelpful way:
- Scared for their own safety
- Enjoy being part of a peer group
- Afraid of repercussions from bully or other bystanders
- Don’t want to bring attention to themselves
- Feel they would be powerless to stop the behaviour
- Don’t know what to do
We need to make our children see that they do have options, and they must listen to that voice inside them that says ‘something is not right here, and we must not let this behaviour continue’.
So here are some things we as parents should be talking to our kids about to help them determine the right choices to make:
- What constitutes unacceptable behaviour?
- What sorts of things may be happening that would make it necessary for a bystander to intervene?
- Bullying can happen between friends too, so talk about the kinds of things that may hurt (particularly within friendship groups, many kids don’t even realize the damage done by their words or their exclusion of others from the group)
- What specific things can they do to intervene?
- Who could they seek out to talk to?
Recent studies have also found that nearly 1 in 5 kids would join in on bullying, just because their friends did, regardless of their feelings towards the victim.
That in itself is disturbing on many levels.
Certainly governments, schools and society as a whole must take a stand and put in place strategies to make bullying unacceptable, but ultimately it must begin at home.
To start a conversation with one of my sons we watched a video “Ronan’s Escape” which I found via Dylan Ravens blog Say No To Bullying. I must say it did have us both in tears so please watch first to determine if it is appropriate for you child’s age and development. It does absolutely highlight however both the direct and indirect role the bystander has in perpetuating a bullying situation.
Have you or your children been bullied? If so what actions or not did bystanders take? Why do you think that was the case?