Bystanders play perhaps the most overlooked role in any bullying situation. Some bystanders will choose to instigate or encourage the bully by prodding or cheering him or her on. Others may even join in on the bullying once it’s begun. In most cases, however, bystanders do nothing but watch or ignore the situation as it unfolds. They passively accept what is happening to the victim, often without realizing it. This sort of bystander behavior does nothing to alleviate the issue and most often works to validate the bully’s hurtful acts. Victims can also sense the apathy, which can trigger a downward spiral into isolation and hopelessness. Students who see acts of bullying may not want to get involved because they fear for their own safety, or they think, “it’s none of my business.” Other students may just simply not know what to do. This is why implementing anti-bullying programs in schools is key to solving the problem. Students must have a more in-depth understanding of the issue in order to combat it. Another reason that goes towards explaining why bystanders do nothing is a psychological phenomenon called “groupthink.” This occurs when people gather in groups and begin acting irrationally or dysfunctionally out of fear of disturbing the conformity of the group. It works to explain why some people might not do want they normally would do outside of a group setting. It is very important for students to be taught what to do when they witness someone being bullied and how to be comfortable doing what they feel is right, even if it goes against the witnessed behavior of the group.
Many Bullies Crave an Audience
Much of the bullying that goes on in school takes place in front of peers. This is because many bullies like an audience. You can think of it like a performance. Many bullies thrive off the energy a crowd can provide, much like an entertainer does. But what happens if you take that energy and reinforcement away? Showing disapproval towards a bully’s actions by directly intervening or calling for help is the best thing a bystander can do to stop bullying. A student body that consistently shows that it will not tolerate the unfair treatment of others is an incredibly powerful force. When students intervene, they take the energy that the bully was receiving from the audience and change the groupthink mentality. All it takes is for one person to speak up and say that what is happening is not right and others who secretly feel the same way will likely follow along, creating a shift in the mind set of the group. When this happens, suddenly groupthink is working towards changing the situation for the better.
Things You Can Do
- When you see someone being bullied, do not join in and further goad the bully.
- If you feel safe, tell the bully that what they are doing is not okay. You can also ask a friend to stand with you in advance to confronting the bully.
- Report the bully to an adult who you respect and you know will help.
- Try to comfort the person being bullied. Showing your support to a victim will make them feel less alone.
- Be a leader, and always do what you know is right.