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Why Bystanders Matter

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Discussions about cyberbullying often focus on the victim and the bully, but most children are neither. They are bystanders.

In a Pew Internet & American Life study, 88% of teens (ages 12 to 17) reported witnessing someone being mean to someone else while on a social networking site.

Bystanders can play an important role in stopping cyberbullying but are often unprepared to take action. It’s up to us, as trusted adults, to help bystanders learn the skills they need to respond to cyberbullying.

Addressing bystander concerns

Standing up to a cyberbully can be scary for children. They may fear becoming the bully’s next target, being labeled as a tattle-tale, or making the situation worse. But you can take steps to address children’s concerns and show them you support bystander action.

To help fight negative perceptions of bystanders as tattle-tales or snitches, try reading books with younger children or news stories like this one with teens about “hero” bystanders. To help bystanders feel more secure about reporting, set up systems that let them report anonymously.

Empowering bystanders

When children witness bullying, they may feel like there’s nothing they can do. But bystanders’ choices can help set the tone for their online environments. If they join in or support the bullying, they are showing that it’s OK to be cruel. But if they stand up for the victim and report the bullying, they are sending a clear signal that cyberbullying is not cool.

Teach bystanders to:

  • Not participate in or encourage bullying behavior.
  • Document the evidence (e.g., save texts, posts, etc.).
  • Stand up for the victim.
  • Report.

Encourage bystanders to take actions supporting the victim rather than attacking the bully. For example, they can post positive comments on the victim’s profile or send the victim kind text messages. The more prepared they are to act, the more empowered bystanders will feel to stop cyberbullying.

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