The Role of Bystanders
Bullying is best understood as a group phenomenon in which children may play a variety of roles.7
These roles include the target of bullying, the child who bullies and bystanders, the term used to describe children who actively participate in or observe the bullying. Bystanders may be supporters of the bully, passive observers, active observers or defenders.
Passive observers may want to stop the bullying and defend the bullied student, but may not have the knowledge or confidence to act. Active observers are those individuals whose behavior encourages the bullying. They may show active support for the bullying by laughing or joining in or they may gossip about the incident. Defenders are students who take action to try to stop the bullying.
Bystanders play an important role in bullying prevention and intervention. In most bullying situations, bystanders are by far the largest number of students involved. They see and/or hear what happens and are impacted by the behaviors. Bystanders can be the catalyst to effect positive change. Children should be taught about the role of bystanders in bullying and should discuss and role-play helpful responses. Can be a useful tool for helping children recognize that there are a range of helpful actions that a bystander to bullying can take, each carrying a different degree of risk.
The Bystander Continuum of Courage: Positive Bystander Reactions adapted from Bullies & Victims.22