telling stories, hearing lives

Bystander Programs

Bystander Group
Posted by Darpan Mehta and Angela Giannetto at Friday, May 22, 2015 1:32:11 PM CDT
Our area of research is into Bystander programs as a method of social justice to try and solve the issue of bullying in schools. Bystanders are individuals that know about the existence of bullying around them, often right in front of them. There are mainly two types of bystanders, hurtful and helpful. In the video Bully, the girl who informed the school officials of Alex being bullied is a helpful bystander. So is Ty’s friend who stands up for him and tells the Bully to back off. Unfortunately, we see instances of hurtful bystanders much more often in the video, even in real life. The kids who egg the bully on and tell him “give it to him good” when the bully is hurting Alex, the kids who remain silent and provide an audience for the bully all contribute to justify bullying. Worse even are the school officials who are supposed to protect the children but don’t do anything about the bullying. They ignore the problem, pretend it doesn’t exist, believe the victim was asking for it by annoying the bully or even reprimanding the victim for not wanting to shake his bully’s hand. Sometimes they offer to help, but often just get the story from the bully’s side, and simply reprimand the bully with words. After talking to the bully they then speak to the victim, in this case Alex, who they ask if he trusts them to take care of the problem, getting defensive when he suggests that he doesn’t. These factors show that there is something glaringly wrong with the current system of dealing with Bullying as an individualistic problem instead of a social one. They are simply facing it on a case by case basis, assuming that they are acknowledging the problem even exists in the first place. The failure of this system, and the avoidable deaths of children that occur scream for a new social justice approach of attempting to solve the bullying epidemic.

The social justice approach of dealing with bullying recognizes bullying as a systemic issue and tries to address the underlying gender socialization issues that lead to bullying, including the underlying social inequalities. It is a program that aims to educate the children on “emotional literacy, social injustice and inequality,” through the curriculum in order to bring forth social change to reduce bullying. The social justice way of dealing with bullying raises awareness with the aim of reducing, if not altogether eliminating the social structure that has led to children taking their own lives. An example of a program that does so is the “Stand for the silent” program created partly in honor of Ty Smalley, an 11 year old child who took his life because of bullying. The program reaches out to schools and educates the students on just how harmful the effects of bullying can be and how to be a helpful instead of a hurtful bystander. So far the program has 1,053,000 kids in 1,043 schools as shown on their website. This massive campaign is slowly changing what the norm has been for students to do when they are bystanders in bullying. Because of this program more children have the knowledge of what they can do to help and address the situation effectively, instead of staying silent and providing a form of justification that what the bully is doing is okay.

School administrators should have participation in a program, such as Stand for the Silent, be mandatory for all teaching staff. They are really the first line in stopping bullying because although the kids in the school that see things like this happening can speak up, they really have no power over the bully to prevent retaliation back on them. These kids that speak up should know that if they go to the administration something will be done to help the situation. At this point in time they have absolutely no faith that will happen. The administration likes to stand behind saying, “Well there is nothing I can do. Kids will be kids.” But there is something they can do; taking the school bus as an example the kids that are constantly being written up for bullying should lose bus privileges. They should not be allowed to ride the bus when they are constantly making threats and hurting students. The parents of the bully will see this as an inconvenience and possibly actually talk to their child about the issue and maybe this will stop the student. Other examples would be detention and mandatory write ups in the child’s file if they are caught bullying. The blaming of the victim which seemed to happen a lot in the video needs to stop. The school board needs to show these children that they will protect them because once they step through those doors onto that bus they are in the school’s care until they step off of that bus at the end of the day.

The kids as bystanders need to realize when they are seeing bullying. Part of the problem when the kids on Alex’s bus went to report the issues was many of them said that, “They were just kidding around.” Maybe that has something to do with culture that they really do not understand how hurtful bullying can be. Videos like Bully and other programs like Stand for the Silent should be apart of every child’s school experience. The children should learn what bullying looks like and techniques as bystanders to put a stop to it. This also goes back to the administrators making it clear to the child that when they report a problem it will be solved. Once a child reports an issue they should be given follow-up on what the administration did with that information and be told what to do if it continues. In Alex’s case he self-reported an incident that the school said they took care of, although not really quite frankly, but he did not know anything about what happened from there. Possibly schools should even form separate clubs in conjunction with Stand for the Silent. So that these kids can help the administration identify and stop bullying where the teachers do not necessarily see it. The administration stated in interviews that they cannot be everywhere all the time. This is most certainly true, but maybe if the kids thought the administration would do something they would be more likely to report these issues when they see them.


  1. Eric Olsen

    Do you think our society is to blame for the rise in bullying, (specifically the situation on the bus with the ‘kidding around’), or is there another factor at fault? Are we also sure that some teachers are not at larger fault in these situations than we realize, especially in circumstances where it looks like they could intervene and help the students being bullied? Your point about how these children’s deaths are completely avoidable and that a new social justice system is needed is certainly the case and lays out just how severe the problem has become.

  2. Sandra Patton-Imani

    Reed Timmer: I agree with the statement that there are two different forms of bystanders one being helpful and the other being hurtful. I do believe however there are different levels of hurtful bystanders in that the kids that simply stand there not saying anything are still doing harm, but not as much as the kids that are egging on the bully and telling him or her that its a good thing. I also like the idea stated that all administration staff at schools should take part in some sort of bullying awareness and education program. A lot of the times it is indeed the administration that futures the bullying issue by not taking the problem seriously or going about the situation in the wrong way.

  3. Sandra Patton-Imani

    Hannah Hennessy: Their comments about the Stand for Silence is a really great way to get the other students and administration involved. I also think having people come in and talk about bullying, letting children know it will be okay to tell the adults, and the consequences for the bully. Having parents of a bullied kid that went too far, would be helpful to have the students relate too.

  4. Sandra Patton-Imani

    Ally Calvert: I really appreciate how you gave us a definition/ meaning to bystander, giving us a better way of trying to understand what you will be talking about in this post. I really like what you two had to say about social justice and how it is viewed as a systematic issue. Trying to reduce bullying is something that I find will always be a problem in schools and is not something that people think of lightly. I also really like what you had to say about Alex on the bus and how they were “just kidding around” this is a part that I feel people cannot tell the difference of “kidding around” and actual bullying, and this is something that needs to be brought to peoples attention. Great post!

  5. Sandra Patton-Imani

    Anna Burns: I really thought this was a good blog post. This group identified the problem, explained the definition for its audience, and came up with possible solutions. I thought the blog was well written and flowed smoothly. I also like how they used examples from the documentary, Bully, to help explain the difference between a helpful bystander and harmful bystander. I thought their solution to fixing the issue of bullying was also very thoughtful. I agree that the mindset of school administrators needs to change and that there needs to be harsher punishment for students who bully. After seeing this documentary, it is clear that bullying is an important issue that needs to be addressed immediately. I also think this group did a good job of making people aware of what they can do as bystanders to stop bullying.

  6. Sandra Patton-Imani

    Zachary Berman: It is a good idea that specifically identify what bullying looks like to children so that when they report it to adults, it will have more legitimacy and be taken seriously.

  7. Sandra Patton-Imani

    Lea Kozulic: There should be a way to “stop” bystanders. Albert Einstein once said: “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything” and that is true because there will always be people who will try to take advantage of others but it’s how you respond to that. Will you just sit there and cry or stand up for yourself? If you have enemies, that’s good, because that means you stood up for something. This is another quote and it’s from Eminem. That doesn’t mean you need to be arrogant, but if you feel things aren’t being fair, you should speak up because noone’s going to speak up for you.

  8. Sandra Patton-Imani

    Marial Williams: I like a lot of your ideas about stopping bullying on the school busses. It is a great point that the bus is a place where the school is already supposed to be in charge. I think inconveniencing the bully by refusing bus service is a great idea, because the parents of these bullies really do need to be involved. However, I think that it needs to be looked at on a case by case basis. Some of these kids are bullies because of bad lives at home, and if they are refused bus service they might not go to school at all. I really like all of the ideas about putting the responsibility on the administration.

  9. Sandra Patton-Imani

    Tasha Alexander: I think one of the best ways to stop bullying and help kids who get bullied is through the bystanders, the ones who see it happen but don’t know what to do. I agree with everything this group said and think they did a good job at explaining how some bystanders try and stop the bully while others try to egg the bully on. This group did a very good job at describing what we need to do so the kids know they have someone to go to and will actually listen to them.

  10. Sandra Patton-Imani

    Susan Smith: I agree that bystanders are part of the problem. It makes me think of something my mother would always tell me growing up, “choosing not to respond, is a response”, generally this was told to me when I chose not to intervene when my younger siblings were getting themselves into trouble and I just stood by and watched. There were many bystanders in this video both children and adult. When the principal tells the parents that she has rode on the bus and they are referencing and it is fine/safe, I nearly went crazy! Alex had to endure so much on that bus and I felt like she belittled the whole situation.

  11. Sandra Patton-Imani

    Emily Tyler: I think this post did a great job of looking at the different roles of bystanders in the film Bully and identifying both specific positive and negative influences bystanders can have. The group has also clearly gone beyond the required text to do additional research, and been proactive in offering their own examples of potetnial solutions to for example the issue of bus bullying. I wonder with the Stand for the Silent movement how far spread their reach is throughout those different schools: did you note if it was throughout the entire US, international, concentrated in the US? Also, how do they determine which schools do they expand to- is it based on them finding problemed schools and starting something, or do proactive bystanders at a school seek out the origanization and start it this way? That might be something worth looking into for future research.

  12. Sandra Patton-Imani

    Good post and good discussion! Bystander Programming has been offered as the latest “solution” to the “epidemic” of bullying in schools. It can be very powerful as you saw in the video. But how effective are these programs? What message do they inadvertently send? If we embrace a systemic approach, and take Pascoe’s research into account, these kinds of programs are evidence of how broken the system is. The people who are supposed to be protecting children are not doing it, and that is why this movement has come into being. While it may be a good bandaid approach and help change the culture of what it means to be a bystander, it seems to give responsibility for stopping bullying to kids. Think about these difficult questions.

  13. Sandra Patton-Imani

    Kelly Read: I live in a school district where there have been quite a few suicides related to bullying.
    The social justice approach needs to take place and should be a class that is taken by all
    Children in elementary through middle school, hopefully, to curb the bullying by the time the child
    Reaches high school. It is great to teach children about bullying, what to do if they witness it and
    How to help, but the program also needs to educate our educators. Many times the educators
    Do not know what to do or have the resources from the district to handle bullying type situations.
    The schools have a no tolerance policy, but what does that mean? They have a policy, but no answers
    On how to handle the situation or even enforce the policy that they do have. Sometimes, the adults
    Are just as responsible for bullying. Many times, the bully’s parents just don’t care. From someone
    else’s post, the movie the Breakfast Club is a perfect example. The other commenter used the wrestler
    (Emilio Estevez’s character, Andrew Clark) because his father was a bully. We must also look at Judd Nelson’s character, John Bender.
    He is a bully, mostly because of the way he has been treated at home where his parents don’t care and the teacher in this movie, Richard Vernon
    also bullies John Bender.

    We have to look at the upbringing of the child and try to educate all children from a social justice standpoint. The school administration does need to stand up and protect
    those that are being bullied as those children have a right to feel safe and the schools have a responsibility to provide that safe place for all children.