You might not have been a victim of bullying, but chances are you’ve seen it happen to one of your classmates.
Maybe you walked away or watched on, unsure what to do when a bully hurled* hurtful comments or pushed around their victim. Maybe you clapped, laughed or even captured the scene on your mobile phone.
While you were not the one doing the bullying, experts say bystanders make a choice to be part of the problem or part of the solution.
The first step is recognising bullying when you see it.
“Bullying is when someone hurts or harms another person and they do it again and again, on purpose, and the person who is being hurt feels like they can’t stop it from happening,” explained Jessie Mitchell, senior adviser on bullying with the Alannah and Madeline Foundation.
“Bullying can be physical, such as hitting or kicking; it can be verbal*, such as repeatedly teasing someone in a nasty way; it can happen online, such as posting hurtful material about another student; or it can be social, which might include deliberately leaving another student out of things or encouraging other students not to be friends with that child.”
One in four school-aged children report being recently bullied and one in five report being recently cyber bullied.
Laughing or encouraging a bully, watching or even walking away without doing anything can all give a bully more power.
The best option is to be a “supportive bystander” either at the time of the bullying or after.
Chief executive of online mental health service ReachOut Ashley de Silva said intervention* by bystanders was known to reduce bullying.
“There’s evidence that shows that in the majority of cases bullying often stops quite quickly, even in minutes, when someone does step up,” Mr de Silva said.
But he said it was important for bystanders to know they could take action after the bullying if they did not feel safe or comfortable to act at the time.
“Maybe intervening in the moment didn’t feel right, but the other option is taking steps after the fact when it does feel safe,” he said.
“I’d really encourage people to think about the options and know there’s a really important impact you can have. It can sometimes happen in the moment, but it can also happen outside of that moment.”
Ms Mitchell agreed and said a bystander’s own safety, as well as what’s best for the person being bullied, should be weighed up before taking action.
“Some of the options you have as a bystander include sitting or standing with the person being bullied so they are not having the situation alone.
“You might check in with them afterwards, ask how they’re doing and make it clear that you don’t think the bullying was OK.
“You might offer to help them report if they want to and you can invite them to join in something fun with your friendship group so they’re not left by themselves.”
Ms Mitchell said a bystander who had a good relationship with a bully might feel safe to challenge them about their behaviour.
“You might ask them to explain themselves: ‘why are you doing this?’, ‘why do you think it’s funny?’ and ‘how would you feel if someone did that to you?’
“You might make clear to them that you find their behaviour offensive or upsetting.
“And if you’ve got a good relationship with that person you might try appealing to your shared history or their best image of themselves by saying something like ‘I’ve always thought of you as a decent person, so I really don’t want to see you acting like this’ or ‘You’ve always been a friend to me, I’d like to think you’d be good to other people as well’.”
Ms Mitchell said reacting to a bully with aggression was not the way to go.
“It’s really important to model the calm and respectful behaviour we want other people to do, so reacting to bullying by becoming aggressive* yourself is not a great idea,” she said.
HOW A BYSTANDER CAN HELP STOP A BULLY
- Don’t stand by and watch or encourage bullying. If you’re feeling safe and you’ve got someone to back you up, step in and tell the bully to stop and that it’s not okay.
- Don’t harass*, tease or spread gossip about the bullying situation — this can sometimes make it worse. This includes on social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
- Support the person who is being bullied to ask for help. For example, go with them to get help, or provide them with information about where help is available. If the bullying is happening online, help them block the person who is bullying them.
- Report the bullying to a parent or other adult you trust, such as a teacher or school counsellor.
- hurled: threw, as in threw or hurled insults
- verbal: spoken
- intervention: stepping in and getting involved
- aggressive: ready or likely to attack
- What are the three main types of bullying?
- What are some options you have as a bystander?
- Is it a good idea to react to a bully with aggression? Why or why not?
- What is ReachOut?
- Who could you report bullying to?
LISTEN TO THIS STORY
1. Make a Poster
Design a poster that could be used at your school. The purpose of your poster is to help other kids at your school to know what bullying is and what to do if they see it happening.
Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Personal and Social Capability
Create an action plan for your school that will help to stop bullying behaviour. Your plan should include ways of helping kids who are being bullies to learn how they can try better ways of behaving.
Time: allow at least 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Critical and Creative Thinking, Personal and Social Capability
Opener Up-Level It
Make a list of all the openers in the article. Pick three that repeat and see if you can replace them with another word, or shuffle the order of the sentence to bring a new opener to the front.
Don’t forget to re-read the sentence to make sure it still makes sense, and that it actually sounds better.
HAVE YOUR SAY: Describe a time when you saw bullying. What did you do?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.