October 5th, 2010
10:23 AM ET

Bystanders play key role in bullying, expert says

Catherine Bradshaw is associate director of the Johns Hopkins Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence

While bullying is often seen as a two-character act, psychologists say bystanders, including parents, teachers and students, can play critical roles in either enabling or defusing bullying.

"When other kids that were bystanders intervened on behalf of the victim, the victim was less likely to experience anxiety or depression," said Dr. Catherine Bradshaw, associate director of the Johns Hopkins Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence.

However, "when other kids try to [step] in, the situation can escalate," Bradshaw cautions. So if a bystander comes to the defense of a bullying victim, she says, it should be done carefully, without the threat of physical violence, in a bid to ratchet down the confrontation.

Parents must not ignore their children's complaints of bullying, Bradshaw said, but should instead notify school officials. A wrong approach for parents, she said, is for the parent to say, "Buck up, you can take care of yourself."

There's also a clear strategy for teachers to employ in an effort to curb bullying behavior. Bradshaw recommends that teachers intervene immediately; separate the students, talking first with the victim, then with the bully.

Bradshaw, an associate professor of psychology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, develops and implements anti-bullying and school-based violence prevention programs in Maryland.

Hear Bradshaw explain the dynamic here:

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Filed under: Bullying • Child safety • Maryland • U.S.
soundoff (41 Responses)
  1. Bystanders isn't the problem

    Dumb adults and the dummies with authority with the convenient blind-eye which in every case feign ignorance of the matter IS THE PROBLEM! Conveniently...we have no records of complaint, no record of phone calls. Schools have a legal obligation to assure every child safety. PARENT scrap this article and it bull! Pay your atty to send a certified letter to all parties involved...let's see how long the schools and its buses will remain a viable forum for bullying with litigation costs and liability claims kicking its azz instead of vunerable children.

    October 5, 2010 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bertina

      Adults are bystanders in many cases but the majority are other students. If other students stood up to the bullies, there would be less incidents of bullying and other outrageous behavior.

      October 5, 2010 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bat-Tina I disagree

      Get out of the teacher's lounge sucking your favorite coke...get off the duff and from behind the desk and in the hallways with kids during class change...get teacher aids and support staff to check the bathroom and stairways...walk on the yard during lunch...Engage with the children...opportunities for bullying goes DOWN!

      October 5, 2010 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • dave

      By the way, the story attached to my post is not the story I commented on yesterday. I do stand by what I said, but it is now being taken out of context in relation to the story above.

      October 6, 2010 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • CalgarySandy

      I accidently clicked "report". I am sorry. There is nothing wrong with this.

      Bullying is a huge problem for adults too. In the work place where bullies go as adults it is rampant in the developed world. My first view of it was when I left the blue collar world and the University to go into IT work in the big world. Not small companies either. The bullies continue what they find funny: hurting people.

      The biggest issue is the bystanders. I have had people leave a meeting when another team member was abusing me at the top of her lungs. When I said we had to bring in the manager she got worse. You report it and get fired. Often the boss is a party to this stuff. As for quitting, you do that and you have no money. There are two ways out: find another job to go to ASAP or wait them out and keep complaining until they lay you off with a package. Yes, white collar. Monsters with no empathy. Bystanders have no spine. They encourage the behaviour by standing silently.

      October 7, 2010 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
  2. dave

    As a middle school teacher, speaking up is a tough solution. Many people(kids) fear reprisals here at school and in the neigborhoods. I have witnessed a teacher side with the bully......bottom line is this. For years and years, we always seem to allow kids to work it out for themselves....we all did, and we seem to be fine. Now, kids would rather take their own lives than deal with their kids. SUE THE SCHOOL? Are you crazy? How about parents going to parenting classes on how to be aware of the signs and how to advise their kiddos to grow up and be healthy and productive. The kids I see that ARE the instigators ARE the issue. They come from unstructured, undisciplined homes. If you are having a kid, maybe one should take a basic parent skills test to become a parent. We license out haircutters? Our dogs? To drive a car? But any one can have a kid.....the demograpgics of a parent have changed, but not for the good.

    October 5, 2010 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave stop being a Dick

      You are intimidated...by middle school kids...and parents...you blaming parents at home and on their jobs paying hard earned taxes for the school board and staff to neglect the safety of their children...Dick I mean Dave...find another job!

      October 5, 2010 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tiredofthis

      Sorry to break this to you Dave, but it's time for you to leave teaching if you really believe what you posted. Teachers such as yourself are as big a problem as the bully.

      October 5, 2010 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • RightTurnClyde

      Actually Dave is right. The laws have changed. The courts and lawyers are the only ones with any rights (and they only want money). You have no right to strike your kid and no right to yell at your kid. Teachers have absolutely NO rights to do anything about anything. Kids know (they are not stupid). Kids probe for boundaries and when there are not many become monster kids. Who's gonna stop them? Anyone (even the parent) who tries is going to jail and losing their house and the kids know it. AND THAT is the LIBERAL WAY. That's what the Liberals want and they want MORE of it.

      October 5, 2010 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rightturnclyde please make a left

      No one is asking you to beat down someone's kid...just be A PRESENCE to witness and respond with A VOICE to redirect behavior or walkie-talk for assistance...most kids respect the teacher. So engage with your students.

      October 5, 2010 at 8:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • dave

      Dick? How did you arrive at such eloquent vocabulary? Honestly, you missed the point, and I am guessing you HAVE never been in a school of 1,100 kids. 99% are amazing, wonderful, and very bright. What my point was, my uninformed laymen, is that 99% of the kids who bully, get suspended, cause disruptions, do drugs at 12, truly are the ones that come from a sad homelife. This could be a purported by many factors, but it is the truth. I have done this for a while, and love my job, but the kids suffer from coming from an environment that does not teach the kids correct ideas of what life has to offer. That is why it is called parenting, and people should be qualified to do so as we are as teachers. The percents you read that schools do not meet standards? That is becuase the schools that have those apathetic kids drag them down.
      As far as the bullying? It is my number one goal of my everyday to see my kids safe, happy, and enjoying my class. But keep reading the stories of how much we fail, like on FOX....it will definitely get you riled up! Wouldn't it be cool to have a news channel that reported all of the successes of my other 99% of kids who rock? That would probably not be that sensational.

      October 6, 2010 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • CalgarySandy

      I taught high school for a while and I would like to see some of these people stay trapped in a room with 35 unruly teenagers and a wimp for a principal. I would like them to tell me how they manage to do all the things they want a teacher to do when most of the day is in the classroom and most of the night prepping and marking. Teaching already is more than a day's work. This comes after years in College with no money coming in, only going out. There are rules about how many classes a teacher does and how much policing is done. Teachers are paid diddly squat in most of the US. I made 4 times as much in the business world when I left teaching.

      I have always noticed that those who rant about teachers are those who know the least about it.

      October 7, 2010 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Fayth

    Well, I think that most people would say the same thing, about how cruel and unnecessary it is. But, i would like to go on the bullying side for a second. The truth is, in most cases that the bully, used to get bullied. So, they are trying to take out the hurt that they feel. Im not saying that this is okay, but its all just a chain of events, if one kid gets bullied, he is most likely going to be a future bully. But, I would have to say that the worst form of bullying would have to be verbal. Because with verbal abuse, you cant really have a firm case of someone harassing you, so you more than likely will just have to deal with it, and it will persist.

    October 5, 2010 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Great point butta...

      as much as it was hard to follow you, here's what should happen:

      YOU get help for advocating the bully!

      The theorectical-bully you referenced, get suspended until he/her gets a letter from a certified counselor their
      are under treatment for bullying!

      See how quickly Johnnie/Susie gets well when mom/dad gotta pay expensive couch sessions!

      October 5, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tiredofthis

      I don't really care what problems the bully has. It is a fact that most bully's need help and, if they don't get it, then many go on to become criminals (there is research to back this up). I am tired of seeing the victim be moved to a different class (or being forced to make some other change) while the bully simply goes on with their life. Call the parents into the school. Make them miss a day or days of work. Unfortunately that is the only way to get the attention of many parents – through their wallets!

      October 5, 2010 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • RightTurnClyde

      All of this talk is only creating a new kind of kid –a bully. So there are TWO kinds of kids (1) my child was teachers pet at XYZ elementary and (2) my kid kicks bott and gets ahead. Actually there are NOT two kinds of kids (nor two kinds of adults) .. there's an angel and a devil .. one on each shoulder (sinister and dexter).. we are all capable of both. It's untrue that some of us are better than others. (elitism)

      October 5, 2010 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Indifference is the Problem

      These aren't heroic acts being thrown out here. I'm tired too of this media and shock tv topic...people stop wringing your hands with silly articles and ruminating your own bullying or bullied experinces. It's time to do all each can to stop this.

      October 5, 2010 at 9:21 pm | Report abuse |
  4. La Piovra

    "Rugged individualism" and victim-blaming have been a part of our culture for too long, but the "lean and mean" ethos that has been our driving force since 1980 has exacerbated the situation. Poor-hating and weak-beating have been incorporated into our politics, our media, and our corporatocracies (I almost wrote coprotocracies, which would be a propos if it were more widely understood), and of course, the children learn. They learn that there are oppressers and victims, that whoever does not take the side of the oppressor becomes a victim, and that victims suck. Our cultural retinas are branded with the image of the serene-eyed god who makes the world go round by dancing on a crushed and suffering baby, so in our fear of becoming the baby, we step on babies to prove we are gods. Cosmic evil is an issue we may never resolve, but fear is the root of 99% of all human evil.

    October 5, 2010 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
  5. RightTurnClyde

    Bystanders? This is a society that sues bystanders. This is a society that jails fathers who discipline their kids. This is a society that has "lawed" itself into submission - law after law after law ... and every time ANYTHING happens the answer is MORE LAWS. Dumb witless laws that prevent people from acting normally and an army of bureaucrats whose job it is to punish everyone. Sooooo ... it is wiser to stand and swatch someone drown than to step in and be liable. You can't step in on a crime in progress (that makes you the aggressor) (even the victim of a crime will blame YOU) . The lawyers will sue everyone. This is a Mad Hatter's birthday party.

    October 5, 2010 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Clyde your name should be

      CHICKEN GEORGE! Maybe you should get out of the business of education. Kids are not in their own custody or own care while at school. You are liable...your inaction creates the next colombine retal...it was the teachers who did nothing when that contributed to these boys actions. Your inaction feeds the problem.

      October 5, 2010 at 9:29 pm | Report abuse |
  6. JennG

    I was bullied quite a bit all through school (elementary & middle were the worst). My mother even had a meeting with the school administrators and the girl's parents. The parents (of the bully) simply stated "kids will be kids" and my mom fought tooth and nail to get something done. Eventually the girl was transferred to another school. Parents need to get involved and be their child's advocate when the child cannot handle the situation. Thankfully the situations after that one I could handle on my own...still, it was awesome to know that my parents were there when I needed them!

    October 5, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Good suggestion!

      Parental advocate...your voice is always heard IN PERSON with the administrator in his or her office.

      October 5, 2010 at 9:58 pm | Report abuse |
  7. La Piovra

    Money was never the root of all evil (unless you believe we should be trading chickens for salt and salt for medical services). Money is a tool, because we agree it is. Like any tool, it can be used to do work, or it can be used to do harm, just as a pipe wrench can be used to fix a pipe or bash in a face. What we are talking about is motive. Meanwhile... back at the ranch... a society that revels in bullies and bullying creates more bullies, because people are afraid to be anything else.

    October 5, 2010 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • I disagree...

      Can you bully someone in the mall?
      Can you bully someone on the street?
      Can you bully in the neighborhood?
      THE ANSWER IS NO!!!!
      Why should the school, its grounds, or buses be any different???
      You can't bully or assault even in your own house!
      Schools and staff have responsibility, accountabilty, a liability.

      October 5, 2010 at 8:54 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Eugene

    Bullying is a crime and we should treat it as one, not just as a "catch and release" crime either. We have become so afriad to use disipline, not corpral punishment, we need to create a deterant to stop bullying. I have had a past of severe bullying which led to hospitalization and long term effects that have plagued me throughout my life. It is not about seeing the past and reflecting on it, learning from it and moving on, these types of terroristic events can leave many emotional scares that cannot be fully healed. Studies have even suggested that in certain environments where bullying is severe that it has led to PTSD

    October 5, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eugene it is a crime...

      for adminstrators, teachers, staff, bus drivers, any school affiliated adult on grounds and on duty to pretend blind-eye while a child is assaulted and bullied. It is even more discreditable that it goes on daily and every adult this child comes in contact don't see or notices anything. IT IS TIME to hold accountable the adults!

      October 5, 2010 at 8:44 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Be creative....

    Take pictures or videos of the bully(ies) in action. It captures all witnesses and inactive, blind-eye adult staff. It is a record that can be forwarded to principal, attorneys, police. If the teacher supports a bully environment report it, if it's a teacher's pet report it...that's a hostile environment and people know a place can be held accountable for that.

    October 5, 2010 at 9:06 pm | Report abuse |
  10. I'm a Bully

    i like to yank on bully meat until it is red and raw.

    October 5, 2010 at 9:24 pm | Report abuse |
  11. The churchlady

    Our Lady of La Vang please lower you mantle of protection on all victims of bullying, heal and embrace these victims with your motherly love. Dispel thei attacks of the enemy against the innocent and refer them to your Son, Jesus's Mercy or His Divine Justice as you our mother, Mary, so desired.

    October 5, 2010 at 9:45 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Christine

    It is very simple:
    School is here to EDUCATE academics.....not behaviors. Behaviors and character are great subjects to touch on, but ultimately parents should take SOME responsibility and be accountable. If my child is a bully, I WILL be responsible for sitting down with him and getting to the bottom of it...

    Blame here, blame there.....seriously? Other countries with much higher education levels will not tolerate anything whatsoever....where is our society going if we continue to be upset and angry and blame......accountability...

    Build your childs character.....help his or her self esteem so that they do not feel the need to bully....

    Just my opinion...

    October 6, 2010 at 1:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Stop weasling your way out

      The school also has a responsibilty to provide a safe environment for children. A hospital treat patients and responsible for patient safety.

      October 6, 2010 at 9:46 am | Report abuse |
  13. bob

    Bullying isnt by any means teachers fault how could it be when there is 2000 students and a staff of only 58 teachers at most. now for all these 2000 students there is parents and guardians we need to stop them at home. Afterall normally familys produce bully after bully home abuse is what makes a bully a bully. If your mad to feel small you have a need to make someone smaller then u

    October 6, 2010 at 2:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Stop weasling your way out

      Bob teachers are accountable and school are accountable. So 7 yr old is in its own care and custody while at school...NO! The school is accountable.

      October 6, 2010 at 9:51 am | Report abuse |

    It appalling and frightening to see professionals in education confess in their day to day work ethics, believe and practice the safety of the children they service is not their responsibilty.

    October 6, 2010 at 9:58 am | Report abuse |
  15. Sisilia

    Its really unfortunate that bullying still exist. I remember in high school my best friend was being bullied by a senior and we were freshmans. I've never been a victim of bullying but when my friend was threatened during lunch by this girl, I intervened saying " If you're going to kick her #$* you'll have to go through me". The girl didn't want to fight me so she squashed it, but my best friend ended up moving to another school,anyways. This was back in 1999-2000, I'm going to admit that's not a good approach or resolution. Its just sad that groups of kids in school form this cult that is conjured of hate, gossip, and deprivation of positive force. I totally agree that bullies are a product of their environment at home. Basically it starts at home, I'm a mother of two and I inform them to communicate if they are being hurt or bothered in a bad way. Its easy to blame society for the lack of good teaching at home. Its hard to be a greater force for the good but in the end that's what truly counts.

    October 6, 2010 at 7:02 pm | Report abuse |
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