There are kids who bully, and kids who get bullied. But what about the children who seemingly fit neither classification? Are they irrelevant to both the issue of bullying and the effort to prevent it? Quite the opposite.
A growing number of experts agree that these children, classified as bystanders, have the power to significantly reduce bullying at schools, but are unlikely to act and/or speak up against bullying if left to their own volition. Therefore, it’s important for adults, namely parents and teachers, to understand why bystanders do not intervene, and empower bystanders through education, guidance, and support.
- The bystander effect is a social psychological phenomenon in which the greater the number of people present, the less likely people are to help a person in distress. When bullying occurs, nearby children are more likely to take action if there are few or no other witnesses.
- Contributing to the bystander effect is the social phenomenon known as the diffusion of responsibility. When children witness bullying in school, each child may assume that someone else will intervene or somehow assist the victim; as a result, no one intervenes.
Many schools throughout the country have successfully reduced incidences of bullying through the use of anti-bullying programs. Not only do such programs target and train the bullies and victims, but also the bystanders. According to an article published by The Melissa Institute for Violence Prevention and Treatment, the components of any bystander intervention program include:
- Creating and nurturing a school climate of caring for all students and staff
- Teaching students to recognize instances of bullying and distinguish between tattling and reporting
- Teaching students to develop empathy for victims and accompanying guilt for not intervening (not blaming the victim)
- Teaching students how to report bullying to adults and to develop effective means of intervention
- Setting up a peer warning system
- Recruiting socially influential youth from a broad segment of student body to take the lead in bystander intervention
- Empowering bystanders to intervene
- Teaching conflict resolution skills to all students