From passive bystanding to active safeguarding

Most people have an understanding of what bullying is and the impact it can have on those who experience it. The research on the long-term impact of bullying reveals that it can manifests as depression, anxiety and contribute to suicidal ideation. Researchers at King’s College London found that the negative social, physical and mental health effects of childhood bullying are still evident up to 40 years later, or more in some cases. 

Victims of bullying can go on to experience ‘poorer health, lower income and a lower quality of life’ as adults. There is no question that bullying needs to be addressed and prevented, but what is the best way to tackle it? 

In general, the starting place for anti-bullying practice tends to centre on the person perpetrating the bullying and addressing their behaviour, and then supporting the person who has been bullied. Schools and workplaces have policies and procedures detailing how they will address bullying when a complaint has been made, but in most cases, the onus is on the victim to come forward and make the complaint in the first place. 

In the case of domestic violence, we now know that most victims will have experienced 30 separate incidents or assaults before they  come forwards and report the abuse. If similar patterns exists with bullying, then victims will have suffered from bullying for a considerable period of time before coming forwards, and by then, the harm, along with its long-term impact will have been done. Waiting for the victim to come forward is leaving it too late. 

So what about the bystanders? The passive observers? What role do they have to play in preventing bullying? 

As Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel put it; 

“What hurts the victim most is not the cruelty of the oppressor but the silence of the bystander.”

Intervening takes courage and bystanders often fear that if they do intervene in any way, they may find themselves the bully’s next target. Indirectly, the scared bystander is also a victim of the bully, but there are things still actions that bystanders can do to help. 

Here are 5 tips to help passive bystanders become active safeguarders;

  1. If you are a friend or closely acquainted with the person doing the bullying, try to distract them. Change the topic of conversation or do something to shift their focus away from the person they are targeting.  
  2. If you are part of a group and it feels safe to do so, speak out about the bully’s behaviour in an non-confrontational way. Be polite – no name calling. Stick to the facts. You could try saying something like, “That’s not very nice. That’s not like you. What’s wrong and why are you being mean?” 
  3. If you are too shy or scared to intervene, find someone who will, such as; a teacher, or member of staff. 
  4. If it feels too dangerous to challenge because there have been threats of violence or you are alone, move away to a safe distance and observe. Try to remember as much detail as possible so that you can report it later when it is safe to do so. 
  5. After the incident has passed, approach the victim and ask them if they are ok and how you can help them.  It may be something as simple as letting them know who they can speak to, or where they can report it. 

When the bullying takes place online within conversation feeds, the same active bystander principles can apply. If you can see that someone is being bullied online you can follow the same steps as you would if it was happening in real life in front of you. If you don’t feel you can intervene in the moment, you can take screenshots of the abuse to share with whoever you report it to later.

In many ways, the SafeToNet safeguarding app operates proactively. It allows children to communicate online and only intervenes when it detects threatening and hurtful language being typed. This is especially useful because sometimes children and young people can engage in ‘BANTZ’ (teasing) and don’t realise that they are being hurtful or that the recipient could perceive the message as aggressive and bullying. 

The app provides invaluable insights into your child’s digital wellbeing. It has a unique and dynamic Safety Indicator that gives a real-time view of children’s movement towards and away from risk. It shows their patterns of safety and risk over a given time period and guides parents on how to deal with and discuss any concerns.

SafeToNet’s smart keyboard provides children with immediate feedback as they type, recognising signs of low self-esteem, doubt and dark thoughts.

The app has audio practices that help with children’s digital wellbeing. Offered both ‘in-the-moment’ when the Intelligent Keyboard identifies issues or at a time of a child’s choosing, the practices provide reassurance and soothing advice and support at a time when children needs it the most.

Given the increased amount of time children and young people are now spending online, installing the SafeToNet app is in itself helping to prevent and eliminate bullying. 

The app is available from your usual app store. 


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