While talk of bullying often focuses on the aggressor and the victim, research from the University of South Australia (UniSA) has found that bystanders play a part in bullying behaviour.
In an international study looking at bullying and harassment in primary and secondary school students, UniSA adjunct researcher, Professor Ken Rigby, says that victimisation most commonly occurs when other people are watching.
And he says that when bystanders step in and speak up, it significantly reduces bullying and harassment.
“Unfortunately, only on a minority of occasions do bystanders seek to discourage bullying, but when they do, it actually stops some 50 per cent of the time,” Prof Rigby says.
And alarmingly, the study has also found that Australian students are less likely to tell the teacher than any of the groups of students in the five countries taking part in the project, including Bangladesh, England, Israel, Italy and South Africa.
“There’s a culture against ‘dobbing’ here in Australia that needs to be addressed — students need to feel that they are doing the right thing by informing teachers.”
“These results shows us that anti-bullying programs need to teach students better bystander behaviour, including safe and effective ways of discouraging harassment, as well as informing teachers,” Prof Rigby says.
“Anti-bullying programs are the most effective way in which schools and communities can address the problem.”
In fact, Prof Rigby has found that when schools get wholeheartedly behind anti-bullying programs, the success rate can be as high as 60 to 70 per cent.
“What we have found is that bullying programs can be highly effective, but there needs to be a high level of implementation from the school community – in the classroom, in the playground and at home.
“The programs need to encompass the entire school community, from broader school policy down to classroom interaction, such as discussions with children about bullying, how to access help and provide assistance to others if needed.
“It is clear that the best predictor of success is not the content of the program but the thoroughness of the implementation.”