Someone who witnesses bullying, either online or in person, is a bystander. Strangers, friends, students, peers, teachers, school staff, parents, coaches and other children or adults can all be bystanders.
Witnessing bullying can be upsetting and negatively affect the bystander as well as the direct victim of someone’s attack.
According to StopBullying.gov, a website managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, bystanders have the potential to make a positive difference by becoming an upstander, someone who intervenes, interrupts or speaks up to stop the bullying.
“Youth who are bullied often feel even more alone because there are witnesses who do nothing. When no one intervenes, the person being targeted may feel that bystanders do not care or they agree with what is happening,” the site states.
There are many reasons, the site also states, why a bystander may not interject, even if he or she believes the bullying is wrong.
“They may be afraid of retaliation or of becoming the target of bullying themselves. They might fear that getting involved could have negative social consequences,” states stopbullying.gov.
For a bystander to become an upstander, the site recommends the following:
• Question the bullying behavior as questioning the behavior can shift the focus.
• Use humor to say something funny and redirect the conversation.
• Intervene as a group to show there are several people who don’t agree with the bullying.
• Walk with the person who is the target of bullying to help diffuse potential tense interactions.
• Reach out privately to check in with the person who was bullied to let them know you do not agree with it and that you care.
“Even one person’s support can make a big difference for someone who is being bullied. When youth who are bullied are defended and supported by their peers, they are less anxious and depressed than those who are not,” states the site.