One reason bullies get away with what they do is that the people who witness the bullying do nothing about it. These bystanders can be the adults who dismiss bullying with a wave of the hand and a “kids will be kids,” or they can be other children, who even may be uncomfortable with what they’re seeing and want to do something, but are not sure what to do. Regardless, a bystander is in part culpable in allowing the bullying to continue and for giving the bully one of the things a bully craves: an audience.
Educating the bystander, the witness to bullying, seems to be a key to truly bringing an end to bullying. We can’t go into people’s homes and arrange for parents to engender empathy and understanding in their children. But we can teach children from the earliest years what it means to witness a wrong and to point it out.
Bystanders may take on many forms. They may be onlookers who don’t like what they’re seeing but out of fear or a reluctance to get involved, they say nothing. They may be friends of the bully who don’t want to interfere for fear of losing their friendship. They may even be defenders of the bully, as the friends of Dharun Ravi and Mae Wong have proved to be, coming to their friends’ defense in the face of some pretty clear evidence of bullying, at least on Ravi’s part.
A question for you, the reader. Have you ever found yourself in a bystander situation? If so, what did you do?