The Role of the Bystander : Give Kids the Skills to Say No To Bullying

Do you know what your children would do if they were to witness a bullying incident? Would they speak up, intervene, join in, turn away or go and get help? Have you ever asked them?

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.

  1. 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:

  • Embarrassed
  • 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?







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This Post Has 23 Comments

  1. Rhianna

    Bullying is just awful isn’t it. Great post, the more people talk about it the more likely we are to be able to stamp it out.

    1. Martine

      It certainly is, and yes awareness is everything 🙂

    2. Martine

      Absolutely Rhianna, and yes, lets get talking…especially to our kids 🙂

  2. Rachel from Redcliffe Style

    Great post! I have spoken to my girls about bullying many times. I don’t think they have experienced it first or second hand yet. I am sure they will come across it soon but I am hoping our conversations are going to furnish them with the ability to know what to do. Rachel x

  3. Yvette @ DTlilsquirts

    Good post! Something to keep in mind when next out at the park!

    you have been visited by a member of #teamIBOT

    1. Martine

      Thanks Yvette 🙂

  4. I’ve read in a few places now that the current belief is reaching the people who witness bullying, especially the popular or alpha kids (not bullies) is the most effective way to counter bullying. I know my daughter wouldn’t bully, but would she stand by if she witnessed it? Not sure. Thanks for the prompt to speak to her about it.

    1. Martine

      Thanks Rachel, and yes it seems to be the consensus at the moment. It is an interesting question to pose to them as often too they may not always be aware of what constitutes bullying and instead just play along with the game. (particularly at a young age)

  5. Grace

    I’m glad I have found your blog, Martine. While my boys are still only toddlers, reading posts such as this one makes me that little more prepared for later on in life.
    Experiencing bullying in my youth, I hope that I’ll be able to have open discussions with my boys.
    I hope and pray that they will never become victims and if they’re by-standers, they’ll know what to do. Thanks so much for sharing.

  6. BossyMumny

    Brilliant post. It’s always interesting to wonder how our kids would react in this situation. We just have to hope that they have enough empathy to stand up when something’s not right.

    1. Martine

      Yes, and empathy is something that doesn’t always just come naturally!

  7. Great post Martine – have shared on facebook as this is so important and been on my mind how to write about it. You have done a great job with the topic. My oldest was bullied by 3 girls in prep and it ended up finally involving the principal and the kid’s parents. Oddly in the last year she has become friends with one of the former bullies (in year 3 now) and it has taken all my strength to allow it to develop and trust that this girl has grown up a lot in almost 3 years (but i keep my eyes and ears open as she is still often a ringleader of discontent on the playground…)

    1. Martine

      Thanks Deb and thanks so much for sharing. It is sometimes hard to watch them in those situations as we want to continue to protect them. I think you are doing the right thing in letting her continue with the friendship, talking to her about it and thus giving her the independence to make her choices…but still keeping an eye out!

  8. You are so right!
    If the bystanders let the bully know that it wasn’t acceptable, I’m sure the bully would stop, for fear of having the crowd turn on him/her.
    I am terrified of the thought of my son getting bullied. He has just started school this year, and with having autism, he is ‘different’. It is hard enough for children who are ‘normal’ (if there is such a thing), let alone for a child with difficulties.
    It is one of my biggest fears.

    1. Martine

      Thanks Tracey, and heres hoping that the school your son is at also make it unacceptable for anyone to get away with any bullying behaviour.

  9. Colleen

    So true. A bystander is validating the bully’s behaviour if they don’t speak up. My son is being taught that this is not ok.

    1. Martine

      Thats great that you are already teaching your son this, it is so important our kids know that it is not acceptable.

  10. Grady Pruitt

    I need to start talking with my son about bullying. Although I don’t think any of that has gone on so far, I would not be surprised if it starts happening more soon. We need to teach our kids that bullying is wrong. Thanks for sharing this video. Though it is sad, it does show what could happen if bullying is unchecked.

    A part of what makes this particular video so sad, though, was that it wasn’t just the kids that were bystanders. It seemed to me like the adults in this situation did little to stop, prevent, or step in when this was going on. As parents, when we see bullying happening, we need to step up and step in to let the kids know that behavior is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.

    Thanks for bringing awareness to this issue, Martine!

    1. Martine

      Absolutely Grady and I too was most upset by the bus drivers and the teachers acceptance of the situation.And I think we should all be talking to our kids about bullying whether we think they are exposed to it or not, as it would seem that you are right in thinking it can happen at anytime and to anyone.

  11. Matt

    It’s great to see other parents blogging about modern parenting.

    As a victim of bullying when i was in primary school, I always find it interesting seeing how different people choose to handle situations like mine.

    Mine was an unusual scenario, where I went from being really popular to suddenly having all my friends turn on me and do the bullying. i.e. They were the bystanders and the bullies.

    1. Martine

      Thanks Matt, and yes whilst that is unusual it is not unheard of for a child to go from being popular to being bullied..and yes in those scenarios the bystanders are usual very influential.

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