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The Important Role of Bystanders – Teaching Great Kids How to Beat Bullying

There are lots of reasons why kids don’t get involved when they witness an incident of bullying.

They may be worried about getting victimized themselves, they may not believe that they have the power to do anything or they may just not know what to do. But kids who passively observe bullying are harmed by it, just as the victims are harmed, and in truth, bystanders are a lot less passive and a whole lot more involved in the situation than they might, at first glance, appear to be.

Fortunately, kids that are taught how and encouraged to help the victims of bullying can do a great deal to reduce incidents of bullying, while staying safe themselves.

Why To Get Involved

There are 2 great reasons for kids to get involved when they see bullying as bystanders:

  1. Firstly, studies show that 85% of bullying incidents get witnessed by other kids and no adults1, and that 57% of the time, when one or more bystanders intervenes in an incident of bullying, the bullying stops within 10 seconds.2
  2. Secondly, kids who witness bullying but who don’t intervene are at risk for a lot of the same types of problems experienced by the bullying victims. Bystanders can feel guilt, fear and anxiety and these feelings can be long lasting and harmful.

Why Kids Don’t Get Involved

Most kids know bullying is wrong, but most kids don’t get involved when bystanders witnessing an incident of bullying. Reasons kids give for not getting involved include:

  • Being afraid of retribution from the bully
  • Being afraid of becoming a victim of the bullying too
  • Not knowing what to do
  • Not believing that anything they could do would have any positive results
  • Not liking the victim
  • Liking the bully
  • Thinking it’s none of their business
  • Don’t want to tattle, don’t want to be labeled a tattler
  • Don’t believe that adults could stop it
  • They enjoy watching the bullying
  • The bully is more popular

The Different Types of Bystanders

Most bullying occurs in front of peers, but bystanders, for the most part, are less passive and more involved than they might seem. Some different roles bystanders play in the perpetuation of bullying are:

  • Henchmen or assistants to the bully – these bystanders don’t start the bullying, but once it’s going on, they get involved in support of the bully
  • Supporters – these bystanders support the bullying but they do not get actively involved in its perpetration
  • Passive supporters – these bystanders support and like the bullying but do not display any open support
  • Disengaged onlookers – these bystanders show or feel neither support or opposition to the bullying
  • Possible defender bystanders – these bystanders don’t like the bullying and feel like they should stop it; but don’t
  • Defender bystanders – these bystanders take a stand and get involved in defense of the victim, against the bully3


  1. Bullying No Way: Bystander Behavior
  2. Pepler and Craig, (2001) Peer Interventions in playground Bullying. Social Development. 10, 512 - 527 
  3. Athealth: Bullies, Victims and Bystanders

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