The Power of the Bystander and a Positive School Climate

When students and school staff ignore bullying behaviors, they are sending a message that bullying is acceptable or something that can’t be stopped. The way to combat that is by creating a positive environment where inclusion, respect for differences, and trust between students and teachers are of the utmost importance. This type of environment can curb incidences of bullying and give student bystanders the awareness and tools they need to take positive action if/when bullying does occur.

The Power of the Bystander

The choices that are made in bullying situations can either reinforce or discourage the bully. A bystander that takes a positive action such as supporting the victim or asking adults or peers to help, or even just walking away, can shift the attention and power away from the bully and help put an end to the behavior. In contrast, a passive bystander that does not take a positive action on behalf of the victim can be perceived as giving permission to the bully to continue his actions. A bystander can also choose to take a negative action, in that they assist or reinforce the bully in some way (for example, by laughing or verbally egging on the altercation).

Everyone exposed to youth bullying should be aware that the power is only in the hands of the bully if it is allowed to be. Once the voices of positive bystanders are heard, there is an opportunity for conflict resolution and problem-solving as opposed to aggression and bullying.

A Positive School Climate

School staff has an important role in promoting a positive school environment that fosters inclusion, respect, and pride in academic achievement, as well as introducing non-violent alternatives to resolving conflict. School staff trained to instill positive social relationships in their students, as well as to manage and diffuse aggression and bullying behavior, are essential to a school’s violence prevention plan. School staff must be especially vigilant to identify the more subtle and covert forms of bullying, relational (social) bullying, in order to ensure that students feel safe and secure.

Read more about CHOP’s Preventing Aggression in Schools Everyday (PRAISE) program, a 20 session classroom-based problem-solving and bullying prevention program designed for 3rd to 5th grade students being conducted in select schools in West/Southwest Philadelphia. The program aims to improve children's friendship skills and problem-solving abilities, decrease children's levels of aggressive behaviors, and support a productive and positive classroom teaching environment.