Bystander: What to do if you witness bullying

Bystanders are people who witness an action or event like bullying. While it may be human nature to assume that someone else watching will help, stepping up and saying something yourself could stop the abuse.

Most bystanders do nothing when they witness bullying. They worry that they can’t help, believe that others won’t approve or are afraid of being the next target. But doing nothing is actually doing something — it makes the situation worse and can be mistaken as approval. People who are bullying often count on this, thinking that they can get away with their behaviour because others won’t intervene.

In many situations, bystanders can be an important part of the solution. There are many different reasons for this, including:

  • •    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 stopping it. Remember, you should only step in if it’s safe to do so.
  • •    Sometimes teens are more likely to convince each other to stop bullying than adults are. Potentially, you can have a big impact on the situation just by speaking out.
  • •    The more people who take a stand against bullying, the safer your school or community will be for everyone. 

Ways to stop bullying when you witness it

Here are some ways you can stop bullying when you see it:

  • •    Speak up: while it isn’t easy, you can speak up during the harassment. You can say that a teacher is coming (even if it’s just a distraction), ask the person who is bullying to stop or encourage the people around you to leave with you.
  • •    Provide an escape: approach the person who is experiencing the bullying and ask them if they’re OK. You can also invite them to leave with you.
  • •    Speak to the person who is bullying: if it’s safe, you can speak to the person who is bullying in private. Let them know that it’s not OK.
  • •    Tell someone: let a teacher, administrator or other safe adult know about what’s going on. If someone is being physically harmed, you can call the police or 911. Telling someone about the bullying can make everyone safer.
  • •    Provide support: after the situation is over, make sure the person who is experiencing the bullying is OK by asking them how they’re doing or reminding them that it’s not their fault.

If you would like to know more about this topic, feel free to speak or chat with a counsellor.