Posted by on November 17, 2019

Bystander. One who is present but not taking part in a situation or event: a chance spectator

There is no innocent bystander.  William Burroughs 

Often, when we think of bullying. we focus (sometimes exclusively) on the bully and the person being bullied. Left out of the bullying dynamic are the other people involved- other students, teachers, parents, bus drivers… 

These are what some, including author Barbara Coloroso, describe as bystanders. The definition above, in my opinion, is somewhat misleading. The “not taking part” seems to imply that the bystander is a spectator with no influence on the observed events. When it comes to bullying and other injustices this is not the case. 

While the most direct dynamic is between the bully and the bullied, the bystander plays a role. In many cases, it is what they “don’t do”, namely help, that helps facilitate the bullying. 

There are various types of bystanders to bullying. Here are the main ones. 

The Apathetic. They see the bullying but simply don’t care about the plight of the bullied. It’s not my problem. She’s not my friend. 

The Silent Supporter. This person doesn’t get involved but quietly supports the bully. He’s a loser and deserves it. 

The Fearful Witness. This person disagrees with the bullying but is afraid to take a stand. examples: If I help I will get bullied myself. If I stand up for her they won’t think I am cool. I don’t want to rock the boat and offend the parents. I don’t want to address an issue that can harm the school’s reputation.

Sadly, as previously mentioned, these bystanders are not just students. Teachers, parents, bus drivers, and other adults can turn a blind eye because they: 

  • are apathetic (and therefore should not hold the position they do)
  • want to avoid confrontation (with the children themselves or their parents)
  • hope that the problem will go away (resolve itself)
  • dismiss it as “kids being kids”

These are excuses, and more pointedly, evasions of responsibility. When it comes to bullying we must cast a wider net and include bystanders. In future blogs, we will look at some of the things bystanders can do to help. 


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