Tackling Bullying; Not Just the Bully and the Victim

By Rebecca Ashton, Senior Educational Psychologist Only in the last 20 years have we really started to understand the mechanics of bullying in schools (Salmivalli et al, 1996). Clearly, both preventive and reactive interventions need to involve children who are doing the bullying or who are on the receiving end. But recently we have learned that the other children are also very important in enabling or preventing bullying. These children are known as the bystanders – not directly involved, and often told not to get involved, but they have a key role to play. So how do bystanders make any difference to bullying behaviour? Sometimes children might actually help another person to do the bullying, or egg them on. Or they might defend the victim, standing up to the bully on the victim’s behalf. But the largest group of children are those who stay right out of the bullying interaction (Tsang et al, 2011). These children, even though they probably want the bullying to stop, are facilitating it by giving the message that the bully can go right ahead: silent complicity (Jeffrey et al, 2001). Even though bystanders can be the decisive factor in whether bullying goes ahead or stops (Hawkins et al, 2001), they usually don’t get involved because they don’t have the skills or confidence to think that their intervention would work. And many anti-bullying interventions deal only with bullies and victims, not with the bystanders, which limits their effectiveness (Merrell et al, 2008). If only we could empower children who are bystanders to take a more active role in preventing bullying and stopping it when it does happen! So what helps a child to stand up against bullying rather than walking on by? Children who are more active in defending against bullying tend to show more empathy in general; they understand and care about other people’s feelings (Nickerson et al, 2008). A sense of self-efficacy, or a belief that one’s actions are likely to achieve the intended goals, helps children move from feeling they should help to actually helping (Thornberg et al, 2013). Positive peer pressure is also key, as children are more likely to defend their peers if that is socially expected (Pozzoli et al, 2010), and reduces the risk that the defender will themselves become the target of bullying . The good news is that interventions which aim to develop these factors do work (Polanin et al, 2012) to increase active defending behaviour. It is possible to mobilise that large group of bystanding children to become anti-bullying agents! A whole-school approach is vital, to develop a culture in which children believe that bullying is (a) not OK and (b) everyone’s responsibility to do something about it. If you are looking for particular programmes and resources, evidence-based interventions include KiVa from Finland (validated in the UK; Hutchings & Clarkson, 2015) and Steps to Respect from USA (Brown et al, 2011).   Summary Dealing with the bully and the victim is only part of the story Bystanders need to get actively involved in preventing and stopping bullying To develop children’s ability to be active, interventions should focus on: Empathy Self-efficacy Culture of active helping      Resource links: Anti-bullying Alliance factsheet on bystanders: http://www.anti-bullyingalliance.org.uk/media/1050/bystanders_and_bullying.pdf KiVa – http://www.centreforearlyinterventionwales.co.uk/kiva.php.en Steps to Respect – http://www.cfchildren.org/steps-to-respect   References: Brown, E. C., Low, S., Smith, B. H., & Haggerty, K. P. (2011). Outcomes from a school-randomized controlled trial of Steps to Respect: A bullying prevention program. School Psychology Review , 40 (3), 423-443. Hawkins DL, Pepler DJ, Craig WM. Naturalistic observations of peer interventions in bullying. Social Development . 2001;10(4):512–527. Hutchings, J., & Clarkson, S. (2015). Introducing and piloting the KiVa bullying prevention programme in the UK. Educational & Child Psychology , 32 (1), 49-61. Merrell, K. W., Gueldner, B. A., Ross, S. W., & Isava, D. M. (2008). How effective are school bullying intervention programs? A meta-analysis of intervention research. School Psychology Quarterly , 23 (1), 26. Nickerson AB, Mele D, Princiotta D. Attachment and empathy as predictors of roles as defenders or outsiders in bullying interactions. Journal of School Psychology . 2008;46(6):687–703. Polanin, J. R., Espelage, D. L., & Pigott, T. D. (2012). A meta-analysis of school-based bullying prevention programs’ effects on bystander intervention behavior. School Psychology Review , 41 (1), 47-65. Pozzoli, T., & Gini, G. (2010). Active defending and passive bystanding behavior in bullying: The role of personal characteristics and perceived peer pressure. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology , 38 (6), 815-827. Salmivalli C, Lagerspetz K, Björkqvist K, Österman K, Kaukiainen A. (1996). Bullying as a group process: participant roles and their relations to social status within the group. Aggressive Behavior . 22(1), 1–15. Thornberg, R., & Jungert, T. (2013). Bystander behavior in bullying situations: Basic moral sensitivity, moral disengagement and defender self-efficacy. Journal of Adolescence , 36 (3), 475-483.

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