Why onlookers hold the key to standing up to bullies

The Guardian reports that a poll shows that more than half of secondary school teachers say bullying is a problem. This, depressingly, is in line with other data – for instance, from the Rumi Foundation, which holds a yearly survey into bullying and whose latest figures show a growth in online bullying.

As a former victim (bullying survivor?) I would say one of the most painful things about being bullied is not so much the humiliation and fear – though obviously that’s a large part – but the confusion. Why is this person doing this to me? What did I do to deserve it?

I can see now – finally – that there are a number of motivations behind bullying that I would have been unable to understand as a child and had nothing at all do with me. First, and most confusingly of all, is the fact that some people simply enjoy bullying for its own sake. To exert power and cruelty over someone weaker than you, or different, is a big kick for a certain kind of person, and such people are not particularly rare.

A related point is that bullying is often an activity that is collectively enjoyed. The group – or mob, if you want to think of it that way – loves to find a scapegoat. It doesn’t matter that the victim is innocent – the point is, the person being bullied provides an “outsider” who can help give the group identity. Such bullying happens not only in schools, but also in workplaces, and pretty much any place where you put more than a dozen people together.

Perhaps the solution isn’t really in the hands of the bullied – it’s in the hands of other, often stronger, onlookers, the non-bullying children, who may pretend not to notice, either because they enjoy the spectacle or they are afraid of being bullied themselves.

The most effective solution would be for those children to withhold approval and condemn the perpetrator – and to be encouraged to do so by schools. If children were taught to collectively “name and shame” bullies, bullying would fall. Nothing in the end is stronger than peer pressure – and in that fashion, the same force that often brings about bullying, can also make it cease.

Read the full article Why onlookers hold the key to standing up to bullies

Can peer pressure really work? Have you seen it in your school? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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