If you are witnessing bullying

When you see someone being bullied, what do you do?

I see it all the time, but I never know what to do.

While bystanders can play a huge role in stopping bullying, most young people who witness bullying do not step in.

Here are some things to keep in mind about bullying:

  • 87% of Canadian students in Grades 8-10 reported witnessing school bullying in the past year.
  • 60% of the time, bullying stops in less than 10 seconds when bystanders intervene.
  • Bullying makes everyone in a school or community feel less safe.
  • Effects of bullying on bystanders can include depression, anxiety, changes in sleep patterns, and loss of interest in friends, family, and hobbies. The more severe the bullying, the more severe the effect on
    witnesses, too.

Most bystanders…

Most bystanders do nothing when they see bullying happen. They may be afraid of becoming the next target, worry that they won’t be able to help, or believe that their classmates will disapprove.

Unfortunately, doing nothing is actually doing something – it’s making the situation worse. Standing around and watching can be mistaken as approval, and can reinforce the bullying. Actively encouraging the bullying (by joining in, laughing, or egging the person on) is also a common bystander behaviour, and one that can be very damaging.

But bystanders can be a big part of the solution!

Here’s why bystanders can make a difference:

  • There are usually more witnesses to bullying than people bullying, and there is power in numbers.
  • Young people are more likely to convince each other to stop bullying than adults are. You can have a bigger impact on bullying than your teachers or parents.
  • If you step in, other people are more likely to step in too. Most young people disapprove of bullying; they’re just waiting for someone to take the first step to
    stop it.
  • The more people take a stand against bullying, the safer your school or community will be for everyone. This will discourage bullying from continuing.

Most young people disapprove of bullying

Here are some ways to help stop bullying when you see it:

Speak up. Examples of things you can say include:

  • “A teacher is coming!” (Even if this isn’t true, it can create a distraction that breaks up the bullying situation.)
  • “That’s mean!” (If you show disapproval others are likely to agree with you.)
  • “Stop – you’re going to get in trouble!” (Reminding the person that what they are doing is against school rules can be a good discouragement.)
  • “Why is everyone standing around watching this? Let’s leave!” (Bullying behaviour is reinforced by those who passively watch, so ask others to leave with you.)

Provide an escape for the person being bullied. For example:

  • “Let’s get out of here.” (Inviting the person to leave with you is a powerful way to show support and provide an escape from the situation.)
  • “Mrs Carter has been looking for you. She wants you to go see her.” (Inventing a reason why the person being bullied needs to leave is another good way to help them get out of harm's way.)

Other ways you can help:

  • If you feel safe, talk to the person who is bullying privately, and ask them what's going on. Let them know you’re aware of the bullying and that it's not OK.
  • If you see someone being bullied on their Facebook wall or other online space, leave a message saying that you think comments like that aren't OK.
  • Tell a teacher, administrator, or other adult you trust if you are afraid for your safety or someone else’s. It’s not tattling if you’re trying to keep someone safe. If someone is being physically harmed, you can call the police or 911.
  • Support the person being bullied after the situation is over. For example, you can ask them how they're doing, or remind them that it wasn't their fault.

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Last Reviewed October 2012 by the Kids Help Phone Counselling Team

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