The bully and the bystander
Experts say that empowering bystanders to take action might be the key to stopping bullies.
What parents can do
Start a discussion with your child, but don't push too hard. "Parents should not tell their children what to do as a bystander. Instead, they should listen to their children and ask them what they would do in certain situations — sort of wondering out loud, to spark a conversation," says Rigby.
Be a good role model of cooperation and collaboration. "It's likely that a child, if she has a good relationship with her parent, will do the same," says Rigby
Encourage your child to tell adults if she sees bullying. She could tell an adult, "You should keep an eye on the hallway in the B wing at lunch, but please don't say that I'm the one who told you about it."
Set a good example in your use of language. Don't use put-downs or language that insults someone based on sexual orientation, race or gender. For example, teach young people that they should not say something is "so gay."
Link your discussions about bullying to your religious faith, if you have one, or other moral teachings your child is familiar with. "Look at stories like the Good Samaritan in the Bible," says Rigby.
By Marian Wilde , GreatSchools Staff
An eighth-grader approaches a sixth-grader in a crowded girls' locker room. The older girl says to the younger, "Those are some ugly shoes you've got there." Then, in front of everyone, she takes out a permanent marker and slashes Xs on the younger girl's shoes, ruining them. The bystanders stare and shake their heads, but do not intervene or try to discourage the bully.
Unfortunately, this passive response from bystanders is not unusual. In other words, bystanders are living up to their name by standing there and doing nothing - and this is a problem. A number of experts today say that bystanders have the power to drastically reduce bullying at schools. Their research offers tips for parents and schools on how to get bystanders to take a stand.
Bystanders are important because:
- Bullying most often takes place in front of peers.
- It almost never happens when adults are watching.
- Most bystanders want to do something to stop the bully.
- Bullies like an audience. If the audience shows disapproval, bullies are discouraged from continuing.
However, bystanders, especially children, need to be empowered to act. The majority of children won't act for a variety of reasons, perhaps because they are afraid, confused or unsure of what to do.
A brief history of anti-bullying programs in schools
School programs to prevent bullying are a relatively new phenomenon. Some European countries and the United Kingdom started implementing them in the 1990s, but the United States was a little slower on the uptake. Ken Rigby, adjunct professor of education at the University of South Australia and the author of many books on bullying, says: "It has been increasingly more prevalent in the past five years or so in the United States. And bystander empowerment is certainly new."
A new focus on the bystander
Researchers are studying the role of the bystander and discovering just how crucial it can be in creating an emotionally healthy environment. If the status quo at any school is that children observe bullying behavior in others and do nothing about it, then they end up tacitly giving their support to the bully.
"We're now raising awareness about the group basis of bullying," says Tara Kuther, associate professor of psychology at Western Connecticut State University and an expert on child and adolescent development. "Sometimes when people are in groups they might not do what they would do when they're alone. They might not do what they know they should do."
Stan Davis, a bully-prevention counselor and the author of Empowering Bystanders in Bullying Prevention, says children are naturally empathetic. "But, kids don't know what to do in all situations," he says. "If they see someone being cruel to someone else, it's not always easy for them to know what to do."