Bullying and harassment among children and teens have become a hot-button issue in contemporary society as a rash of suicides have swept the country. The victims may feel like they have nowhere to turn and act out by harming themselves.
In response to this crisis, an emerging practice that empowers other students to put an end to bullying has started gaining traction. While bystander mobilization might be encouraged by teachers and other adult authority figures, the ability to put a stop to bullying is left in the hands of the students.
The Bystander Effect
Students often feel powerless to stop a peer who they witness bullying others. In the moment, they may fear that speaking up will turn the bully’s attention on them. As such, they don’t take any action, especially if there are other students watching the bullying occur.
This is referred to as the “bystander effect,” in which people do not go out of their way to help others in distress when there are other witnesses to an event. In instances of bullying, bystanders – especially children – don’t want to get involved and single themselves out.
Afterward, they may feel upset, stressed or guilty over what happened, even if they were only watching what was going on.
Bystander mobilization is a way of turning that weakness into a form of strength. It asks witnesses to call out the bully and his or her behavior during the act itself, whether it’s taking place in front of them, down the hall or even online.
The child is encouraged to address the victim and make sure that they are all right, while also pointing out that the actions of the bully are wrong to other children watching. In some instances, they may encourage other bystanders to leave so that the bully doesn’t have an audience and thus the attention they crave.
When one person speaks out, it becomes easier for others watching to speak out against the bully.
Bystander Mobilization – it takes courage and ethics
Stepping forward and showing a bully that their behavior is damaging and dangerous takes courage, but it can be immensely rewarding for children of all ages. By addressing the act of bullying in the moment, they can help de-escalate and stop harassment before it causes long-term physical or psychological harm.
Bystander mobilization can also give children and teens greater experience with confidence and empathy, making it less likely that they will simply ignore bullying that they witness in the future.