Standing By Or Standing Up?

Bullying. Despite prevention programs in schools, funding from governments and not for profits to solve this complex problem, children and young people continue to take on roles other than perpetrator and target. They are silent witnesses to the bullying experiences of their peers online and face to face as bystanders.

According to a US study, ‘Cyberbullying should be considered in the overall context of bullying, not something separate.’ Additionally, it reported that the ‘fear of retaliation prevents bystanders from seeking help.

The Bystander Effect

The Bystander Effect explains how the presence of others around us can influence the way we act. Usually, in problematic situations, bystanders are created because of the diffusion of responsibility.

Psychology Today explains that the diffusion of responsibility is the process whereby individuals relinquish responsibility for taking action to other onlookers. This ultimately causes a wide-range of negative outcomes — in this case bullying and cyberbullying continue unchecked.

“Bystanders are kids and teens [even adults] who witness bullying and cyberbullying in action, who stand by and watch, who videotape it and make it viral…and WHO DO AND SAY NOTHING.” —Stomp Out Bullying, Change the Culture

Bystanders And The Digital Age

The digital age has introduced what we call the ‘Cyberbully Bystander’. According to Savvy Cyber Kids “a cyberbully bystander sees what is happening between a bully and a target, recognises it as cyberbullying, but decides not to get involved, or thoughtlessly joins in with a like or a follow.”

According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Centre, 88 percent of teens have witnessed someone being mean or cruel to another person on social media sites, chat rooms, online games and text messages.

But what holds them back from interrupting, speaking out or reporting the hurtful situation?

According to a paper authored by Janet Olsen the reasons may be:

  • That speaking up could result in retaliation such as being physically attacked or having one’s reputation damaged
  • It could make the situation worse
  • That their actions may have limited or no impact
  • That the person being targeted deserves it
  • The fear of taking action as an individual rather than with supportive friends or other peers — ’safety in numbers’
  • They don’t know what to say or do

Empowering Our Kids To Stand Up

The first step to changing the role of a passive bystander to an active one is by empowering our young people to become active bystanders or UPSTANDERS.

But how do we do this?

Embed important qualities like connection, compassion, empathy and courage with strategies to interrupt or limit cyberbullying particularly, can have a positive and empowering impact.

The most effective strategies are taking action, being assertive, and taking a leadership role.

According toStomp Out Bullying bystanders can safely take action to support a victim in face-to-face situations in these ways:

  • Don’t laugh
  • Don’t encourage the bully in any way
  • Don’t participate
  • Stay at a safe distance and help the target get away
  • Don’t become an “audience” for the bully
  • Reach out in friendship
  • Help the victim in private
  • Support the victim in private
  • If you notice someone being isolated from others, invite them to join you
  • Include the victim in your activities
  • Tell an adult

For the online world, Savvy Cyber Kids suggests making a positive change by:

  • Flagging inappropriate content and reporting cyberbullying to the platform
  • Post words of support for the victim
  • Send the victim a DM and encourage them to seek help
  • Tell and adult you trust
  • Never share, like or comment in support of images or videos of someone being hurt
  • If you see a crime online, do what you can to get help quickly

90% of parents whose children were targeted by cyberbullying were unaware it was happening. We wrote The Parents’ Survival Guide to Children, Technology & the Internet to help your family understand the warning signs. Get your copy here.

Family Insights —The Parents Survival Guide to Children, Technology & the Internet

Family Insights —Keep Calm & Cyberbullying

Women’s and Children’s Health Network —Are you a bystander to bullying?

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