Bystanders and witnesses constitute the majority of students who neither initiate nor experience bullying and, as such, they have tremendous and often untapped power for positive influence on school culture. Coupled with this is the often overlooked potential of children and teens for peer support. We know that many children and teens do not enjoy witnessing bullying and want it to stop. Certainly many adults who witnessed bullying as children or teens have told of the anguish and guilt such experiences produced in them. If schools provide students with safe ways of supporting those who experience bullying, most will be relieved and glad to put these into practice.
Certainly, it takes a great deal of courage for any of us to refuse to cooperate with a person who wields influence and is using power in a negative way. In order to create healthy school cultures, we need to devise safe, simple ways for children and teens to act according to their conscience when they see injustice. And we must ensure that students need not put their own safety at risk to ensure the safety of another.
Bystanders and witnesses refrain from giving power to the student who is bullying when they:
- express support for the student who is bullied;
- seek help from other friends or adults (at school or elsewhere);
- refuse to laugh along or watch the bullying behaviour.
Many children and teens are capable of the kinds of small, everyday acts of courage and kindness that have the potential to create a healthy school environment. As adults, we need to foster the kind of school atmosphere that nurtures and encourages a culture of compassion.