Types of bullying and the impact of being a bystander
Bullying doesn’t just impact those directly involved. Perhaps your child isn’t a bully themselves, but has been a bystander – someone who does nothing when they see someone being teased or bullied. They may think they are doing the right thing by keeping quiet – so it’s important to teach them that by challenging a bully instead of being a bystander, they can stop hurtful behavior from taking place.
In many situations, bystanders are the people who “allow” bullying to happen. Their behavior might include:
• Joining in, teasing, or laughing at an incident even though they know it’s wrong
• Not taking a stand or saying anything when they witness bullying
• Ignoring the victim during or after the event and not offering support
• Not seeking help from a teacher or adult when it’s needed
Why do people become bystanders to bullying?
Bystanders may be motivated by fear of being the next target. If someone is being picked on because of their physical appearance, it may make your child scared to speak out in case they’re teased too.
A bystander may also be unwilling to act because they don’t know what they should do. Explain to your son or daughter that being a bystander can mean becoming an indirect victim of bullying. Those who do nothing are allowing themselves to be cowed into submission by the bully. But if they develop the self-confidence to confront the bullying behavior, the bully will often back down – and, importantly, other “non-bullies” will often join them in challenging the bully.
Ways to stop bullying when you’re an onlooker
Help your child understand that they may have an opportunity to stop bullying or prevent it from taking place – that their actions can make a difference. Challenging a bully won’t be easy, so don’t make light of it. Breaking out of the bystander role can be tough, requiring courage and high self-esteem
There’s more than one way to stop bullying
Discuss the various ways that your child might be able to stop a bully. “Sometimes you can do it there and then – though that can take a lot of courage,” says Etcoff. “But it’s also possible to intervene after the event, by talking to the victim or bully directly, or even a parent or teacher about what you’ve witnessed.”
For a young person, the message that they can have an impact on and improve the situation is empowering. It may help them develop their own sense of confidence, as well as being an important life lesson.
- Talk to your child about what they should, could, or would do if they became aware of bullying or teasing in their social circle. If they’re not directly involved, their instinct might be to sit tight and do nothing. Explain the importance of being assertive when they know something isn’t “right”.
- Explain that bullies are cowards, so standing up to them is often effective. If a victim can’t stand up for themselves, someone else who’s prepared to take that risk could make all the difference.
- Let them know that while it may seem “harmless” to tease someone, if it takes place on a regular basis it can cross the line into bullying behavior. Whether in families or friendship groups, continual teasing can be very hurtful and have the same impact on self-esteem as more obvious bullying incidents.
- If you have a daughter, read our article Girl bullies: understanding different types of bullying and learn more about how girls interact in this way and how you can protect your own girl.
- For more information, read our article Why do bullies bully?, in which experts explain more practical tips for combating bullying.
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