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What’s a bystander?

A bystander is a witness who sees or knows about bullying happening to someone else. But it doesn’t mean they have to just watch it happen. Whether they know it or not, by doing nothing a bystander supports the bullying behaviour. The bottom line is, bystanders have choices: they can either be part of the problem, by staying silent; or part of the solution, by helping out. Fact: Did you know that bullying will usually stop in minutes when a bystander or friend steps up and gets involved? Bystanders can stop bullying in its tracks.

The roles of a bystander

Bystanders can act in different ways when they witness bullying. It’s crucial to know that they can get involved and help stop it at any point.

  • Some bystanders take the side of the person doing the bullying by laughing along or encouraging them. Some bystanders give silent approval to the person doing the bullying just by looking on. People who bully often love an audience.
  • Some bystanders may watch the bullying but not do anything because they’re scared, or they’re not sure what they can do to help.
  • Some bystanders will step in and take action to stop the bullying. They may stand up to the person doing the bullying, find help from a teacher or adult, or offer support to the person being bullied.
  • Cyber-bystanders can be with a person who cyber-bullies when they send nasty images or texts, or post something mean on social media.
  • Cyber-bystanders can forward mean links, texts, images or posts to others. Sharing or liking a mean post on Instagram or Snapchat actually makes the situation worse.
  • Cyber-bystanders can be with the person being cyber-bullied when they receive a mean message or read a mean post about themselves.
  • Cyber-bystanders can show their support to the person being bullied by posting something nice about them online or sending them a friendly message.

Ditch the excuses

No doubt it can be hard to know what to do when you see someone else getting bullied. And your options will depend on what’s going on and who else is around. But don’t fall into the trap of making excuses for not doing anything.

Bullying is everyone’s problem. Put yourself in the shoes of the person being bullied for just one moment. How would you feel if you were them? Even if you’ve never been bullied, chances are you know someone who has.

Nobody deserves to be bullied. Maybe it seems like the person being bullied deserves it, but do you know what’s going on in their life? We can never know what another person is dealing with, what’s going on for them.

You may have to be the first person to step up. Just because nobody else is doing anything to stop it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t either. Straight up, it takes courage to speak up for what’s right.

It’s a big deal to the person being bullied. Imagine what they’re going through. For them, the effects of bullying are serious: confusion, rejection, stress, shame, embarrassment, depression, fear for their own safety, and even physical illness.

You can break the chain. No one wants to become the next target and it can be scary to step in and intervene in a bullying situation. Check out how you can help in this video.

What can I do now?

  • If you're not sure if what you're witnessing is bullying or teasing, we spell it out for you here.
  • Remember that 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.
  • Get support from other young people who have witnessed bullying on the ReachOut Forums.