Bullying prevention: the bystander effect
bullying bystanders

Bullying is a massive problem in New Zealand schools. It’s something we all know, but not many of us know how to change it.

Thankfully, there is now a program that could make a real difference in our schools. Developed at the University of Turku in Finland, the KiVa program is evidence-based and has been designed to prevent bullying and to tackle the cases of bullying effectively. It turns the attention from the bullies to the bystanders, helping them to take action against the bullying.

This is a vital step that has perhaps been missing in our approach to bullying to date. Of course there are nearly always witnesses to a bully’s actions, and if these bystanders are able to show that they don’t accept the bully’s behaviour, as his/her peers, then this is a powerful tool to change the bully’s actions.

Currently there are four ways that bystanders react to bullying:

  • Supporting the bully – enabling their actions by taking part
  • Reinforcing the bully – encouraging them by watching and laughing
  • Silently approving the bully – withdrawing and acting like they don’t notice it
  • Defending the victim – Fortunately there are some children that are willing to support the victim

Why aren’t children stepping in?

It can be scary for a child to put themselves in the path of a bully. They may fear becoming a victim themselves or of being ostracised by not conforming to the crowd. Many children also don’t know what they can do to help the victim.

The danger of this silent approval is that it gradually turns to indifference and the victim’s situation is forgotten. It becomes more trivial and part of the daily life of the class, making it then even harder for a student to intervene.

In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. – Martin Luther King.

How KiVa helps

The aim of the KiVa program is to influence the entire class. The program helps to build a shared atmosphere of awareness, intervention and responsibility. The goal is to educate the students so that instead of silently approving or encouraging the bullies they start supporting the victim, showing that they do not condone bullying.

Stopping bullying becomes possible when a sense of shared responsibility is developed and group norms are changed. This program attempts to achieve both of these things. Another great goal is to provide students with concrete tools for intervening in bullying situations as well as creating a safe atmosphere where no one defending the victim has to be afraid of being bullied him/herself.

What you can do

  • Talk to your child about what it feels like to watch someone being bullied. Talk about what the victim might feel like. Discuss these feelings.
  • Encourage your child to talk to their friends about bullying and how they can end it. A group is stronger than a single person and bullying will stop if there are enough people against it.
  • Talk about different types of bullying. Not just hitting and name-calling, but indirect or cyber bullying.
  • Encourage your child to take a stand against bullying and to support victims of bullying in whatever way they can.

This article was written for Kidspot, with information from KiVa

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