What is a bystander?

Hunched boy wearing grey hoodie

A bystander is someone who witnesses bullying, but does nothing to try and stop it. Most young bystanders do not act maliciously, but are simply unaware of their ability to help. On the other hand, some may purposefully aggravate the situation through provoking the bully into action by laughing, cheering or momentarily joining in.

Why is bullying not reported?

Young people may not report bullying to an adult because they:

  • are scared of confrontation;
  • fear repercussions from the bully;
  • don't know how to report it;
  • do not think an adult can help;
  • do not like or know the target;
  • rely on someone else to intervene;
  • are friends with the bully.

How can bystanders help?

Bystanders play a pivotal role in preventing bullying, as bullies can only thrive in an environment that promotes secrecy. While we do not suggest young people put themselves in danger, there are some safe steps everyone can take to make a positive change.

Bystanders can prevent bullying by:

  • reporting the incident to a trusted teacher or adult (this can be done anonymously);
  • sticking up for the target through disagreeing with what the bully has said and making it clear that their behaviour is not acceptable;
  • rallying the support of a group of peers to stand up to the bully and report the incident;
  • making a special effort to include others and befriend peers who appear isolated. 

It is equally important that parents and schools communicate these points explicitly to young people so they know that they will be supported when they make the correct decision not to 'stand by'. 

Related advice

For parents

What is bullying?
Supporting a bullied child
My child is bullying others 

For young people

How to respond to bullies
Have I been involved in bullying?
Friendships and frenemies

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