Being a bystander of bullying
Did you know that bullying will usually stop in minutes if a bystander or friend steps up and takes action to support the person being bullied? Bystanders can stop bullying in its tracks.
We reached out to hear some bullying bystander stories from young people and what they did about it. There's other options to being a bystander of bullying.
It's not okay
"I was a bystander to bullying when my younger sister was bullied in early primary school because she was smaller than some of the other kids. I’m two years older than my sister, and I was very protective of her. One day, I saw her being pushed around on the playground, but no one did anything about it. So, I marched up to the bully and said, “It’s not okay to bully.” The bully’s parents ended up being called to the school when I encouraged my sister to report the situation. I felt guilty that I couldn’t have been there to stop the bullying when it first started, but I’m glad I was able to step in and help my sister report it." – Rachel, 18
Scared to help
"In the first couple of years at my high school, the “cool” group of girls decided to make fun of a girl who was a bit quiet and different. They laughed at and ridiculed anything she did, called her names, and isolated her. The class (including myself) just watched and let it happen. We pretended that nothing was wrong, even though we were inadvertently supporting the bullying by not doing anything. I felt fearful that if I tried to help, I’d be ostracised or bullied as well. Looking back, I wish I had stepped in and said something, anything, to stop the bullying from happening." – Gabbie, 20
"I felt intimidated and just sort of avoided eye contact while the bullying was happening. However, when the bully got off the train, my friend and I moved over to the person who had been bullied, sat with them, apologised for the bully's behaviour and made general conversation with them for the rest of their train journey – just to reassure them that not everyone is horrible and mean." – Caitlin, 19
I wish I'd done more
"Some people I was friends with were bullying somebody on Facebook. They were trying to get me involved and thought it was funny, but it wasn't and the person would have been really upset. Unfortunately, I did nothing; I just didn't get involved or respond to their comments or anything. I should have checked if the person was okay, though... I felt really bad for them. It made me upset, because I know what it's like to be bullied. It also made me feel a bit ashamed of myself for hanging out with these people. And I also felt like I should have done something to help. I didn't feel like that until later on, though. I thought that ignoring it was enough." – J95 (builder on RO forums)
When you see a bullying situation, it can be really scary to step up and help the person being bullied. But bystanders can be either part of the bullying problem, by ignoring it, or an important part of the solution. Here are some quick and simple steps you can take as a bystander to help stop bullying:
- Don't stand by and watch or encourage bullying. If you’re feeling safe and you’ve got someone to back you up, step in and tell the bully to stop and that it’s not okay.
- Don't harass, tease or spread gossip about the bullying situation – sometimes this can escalate it and make it worse. This includes on social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
- Support the person who is being bullied to ask for help; for example, go with them to get help, or provide them with information about where help is available. If the bullying is happening online, help them block the person who is bullying them.
- Report the bullying to someone in authority or someone you trust – for example, to a teacher or a school counsellor, if it's taking place at school, or to a manager, if it’s at work. If the bullying is serious, report it to the police.
Being a bystander of bullying, you can step up, speak up and help stop bullying.
What can I do?
- If you're not sure if what you're witnessing is bullying or teasing, we spell it out for you here.
- Bullying will usually stop within minutes of a bystander or a friend stepping up and getting involved? This video runs through how you can stop bullying in its tracks.
- Reach out to someone who’s experiencing bullying and let them know you’re there for them. It can make a huge difference to how they’re feeling.