Who Is Involved?

Young people who are targeted by bullying may feel very alone in the world. In reality, any bullying situation involves numerous actors, some visible and some not.

The Power of Witnesses

The power of the person who bullies is profoundly influenced and may be enhanced or diminished by the actions or inaction of witnesses. Those who bully rely on the fact that the witnesses – people who are present or who are aware of the bullying – will do nothing to help the person being intimidated and that they will actually support the bullying behaviour. As such, those who bully derive their power from the fear or complicity of silent witnesses of bullying.

The isolation of the child or teen who is targeted also increases the power of the young person who bullies. That isolation can be mitigated or intensified by resource people – adults (and often young people) who have the capacity to be a source of support and help for the bullied child or teen. When young people expect that the adults in their lives will not believe them, or that they will be unwilling or unable to help them, they are not likely to seek help. In such an environment, people who bully can do so without any consequences, knowing that their actions will remain secret.

Each of these parties has the power to influence the situation for better or for worse, and a choice about what role they play. At the same time, there are many factors that influence how, and if, witnesses and resource people will and can maximize their potential to bring about positive change.

Becoming an Ally

We know that many young people do not like to witness bullying and want it to stop. Many adults who have witnessed bullying when they were at school have told us about anxiety and guilt felt in these situations.

The majority of young people are not being bullied, nor are they bullying others. These are the witnesses and potential allies. As such, they have immense power - often untapped – to positively influence the culture of the school. Coupled with this, is the often-ignored potential of young people’s capacity to offer help to each other and provide peer support. As parents we can play an important role in helping our children recognize their power, develop this skill, and find the courage to interrupt bullying.

If we offer our children the necessary skills and safe ways to support their peers who experience bullying, most will be relieved and happy to apply them. When witnesses do so, they become allies. Fostering our children’s ability and commitment to becoming allies is a key part of healthy child development and bullying prevention.

To create a healthy culture, we can provide young people with safe and simple ways to act according to their conscience in the presence of injustice. At the same time, our children need to know that they have a choice, and that their concerns for their own safety are also valid. As parents and guardians we are responsible – in collaboration with adults in the school - for ensuring that young people can take action and speak their minds while staying safe.

Allies can effectively challenge bullying by:
  • Showing their support for the child or teen being bullied.
  • Refusing to laugh with others or watch the bullying, and by leaving the situation.
  • Enlisting the help of friends or adults.

It is important that we try to avoid expressing anger or disappointment toward young people when they are not functioning as allies. It is important to explore the situation with them, and help them develop their skills, keeping the lines of communication open to them. Addressing and validating their fears and safety concerns, and offering them support are effective ways to encourage them to take on this role. It is never too late for them to put these skills into practice.

Many children and teens are able to attempt these small gestures of courage and kindness that can help create a healthy environment at school. As adults, it is our responsibility to provide effective support and to ensure the safety of young people who find the courage to act as allies.

Adults Supporting Young People

Without the continued support of the adult members of the school community, it is impossible to prevent bullying in schools. Adults are the main catalysts capable of the kind of fundamental change necessary so that children or teens who witness bullying will have the support and find the courage to defuse the situation and stand up for the rights of the bullied young person.

Young people are always observing us. Our own tolerance for harmful behavior will be reflected in their behavior. We are sending a clear message when we intervene consistently each time we witness any form of hurtful behavior, including malicious words. Although these actions or words do not always degenerate into bullying, they still contribute to the establishment of the culture in which our children live and learn. With our consistent and constructive involvement, and our positive role modeling, incidences of bullying can be reduced.

Our commitment – manifested by constantly setting a good example, by using interventions based on support to put an end to bullying situations, and providing sensitive and constant support to our children – is indispensable for the prevention of bullying.