Tips to Help the Bullying Bystander
Bullying incidents from around the country have dominated news headlines in recent years, sparking a national debate about how to empower children victimized by bullies, and how to help kids who bully change their aggressive ways. But there’s one person missing that appears in a whopping 60 to 80 percent of bullying situations: the bystander (1, 12).
Despite not being the primary target, a bystander who witnesses one child bully another still suffers negative effects from the incident, such as anxiety, depression, guilt, or helplessness (12). Even if your child hasn’t bullied others or been the target of bullying, it’s likely she’ll witness a bullying incident—and it’s up to you to give her the skills she needs to recognize that it’s wrong, decide to help and do so in a way that keeps both your kid and the child being victimized safe. “Children need to understand what bullying is and that different situations may require different kind of actions,” explains Dr. Amanda Nickerson, Director of the Dr. Jean M. Alberti Center for the Prevention of Bullying Abuse and School Violence at the University at Buffalo, SUNY. “And the most effective action may not be directly confronting the person bullying.”
When witnessing an incident, your child may experience the “bystander effect,” described by social psychologists as a diffusion of responsibility—or the idea that when surrounded by people, one person is less likely to take responsibility during a negative situation. The bystander intervention model, outlined by Latané and Darley in 1970, outlines five things a person considers before intervening:
- Notice the event.
- Interpret the situation as one that requires help.
- Accept responsibility for intervening.
- Know how to help.
- Implement the decision made about intervening.
Research has shown there are multiple reasons your child may not stand up to a child that’s picking on a fellow classmate. She may think the harassment is none of her business (11), fear retaliation by the bully or other peers (6, 10, 11), feel helpless to stop the situation (6, 10, 11), or may simply think that the child being targeted deserves how the bully is treating him (6).
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