5 Ways to Prevent a Friend From Bullying

group of girls talking and laughing about other girl

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Bullying occurs every day in schools across the country. Some days you will see it and some days you won’t. But when it occurs right in front of you by a close friend, you need to do something about it. You owe it to your friend to encourage kindness and respect, and you owe it to the victim to put an end to the harassment.

Why Intervening Is Important

Aside from the fact that bullying is wrong, bullying also hurts everyone involved. Not only is the victim impacted, but your friend who is doing the bullying also experiences mental health consequences.

Bullying even cause psychological harm for those who witness it. For this reason, it's in everyone's best interest to intervene when you witness a friend bullying someone else.

Research shows that most attempts to intervene and stop a bullying incident are successful.

In fact, bullies count on witnesses being quiet and not saying anything about their behavior. They may even expect the bystanders to join in or laugh at the victim. But you shouldn't be that person.

Even if you are unable to get your friend to stop harassing the victim, simply saying something or showing support for the victim can make a huge difference. Trying to get the bullying to stop shows the victim that what is happening to them is wrong and that they are not alone—that people do care about them.

Knowing they are supported makes coping with the bullying incidents easier. In fact, research indicates that when people who are victimized by bullies are defended and supported, they experience less anxiety and depression.

If you can't bring yourself to intervene in the moment, it's not too late to help. You could also reach out to the person being victimized at a later date and see how they are doing. Doing so demonstrates that you care about them, which can give them hope that things will get better and the bullying will end.

What to Do to Stop Bullying

It can be scary to take that first step to put an end to a friend's bullying, but part of being a good friend means letting them know when they are not making wise choices. Use these tactics to prevent your friend from bullying again in the future.

Say Something

If you witness your friend bullying someone, it is vital that you say something to end the behavior. You should never remain silent. As a friend, you likely have a better chance of bring the bullying to an end than a stranger does.

You don’t have to yell or make a big deal out of it. Just simply say “stop” or “that’s not cool.” You can even distract your friend by asking a random question. The important thing is that you say something. Whatever you do, don't laugh or join in. This type of response only makes things worse for the victim and it encourages your friend to continue bullying.

Do Something

If telling your friend to stop feels awkward for you, then distract your friend in some way. Make an unrelated joke or encourage your friend to come with you to get something from the vending machine. You could even start asking questions about school or a sports team. The goal is to create a distraction in some way so that your friend stops bullying.

Remember, if you don’t do or say something, your silence implies that you agree with the bullying.

If your friend keeps bullying, you may want to ask for help. Teachers, parents, and other authority figures can be a powerful intervention when the situation is too big to handle alone. Although you may worry about possibly getting your friend "in trouble," it is better to stop this kind of conflict before it gets out of hand than to wait until your friend does something they can't take back.

Point Out the Risks

Once the situation has passed, be sure to talk to your friend about the risks of bullying. Remind them that they could get in trouble, including getting detention, being suspended from school, or receiving some other disciplinary measure for bullying. Remind your friend that if they bully other people while you are together, then they are putting you at risk as well.

Also, try to get your friend to see how bullying impacts the victim. Ask how they would feel in the same situation. The goal is to get your friend to empathize with the person being victimized.

Lead by Example

Sometimes the best way to keep your friend from making poor choices is to lead by example. Be sure you are treating people with kindness and respect. Stand up for those who are weaker than you and befriend kids who are alone or isolated.

Many times, kids who bully are looking to fit in or belong. If your friend realizes that in order to be your friend, they need to treat others well, then they may be more likely to stop bullying.

Set Boundaries

If, despite all your efforts, your friend still bullies other people, it is time to limit your contact with this friend. This may mean that you tell your friend you don't want to spend as much time together, or maybe you simply avoid them until they change their behavior. Whatever your means of communication, you cannot maintain a friendship with someone who is not kind to other people.

In fact, if your friend frequently bullies others, at some point they may begin bullying you as well.

It is time to draw a line in the sand and limit your contact with this friend until they start being more respectful. Remember, simply associating with a bully can cast a negative light on you as well. Even if you never do or say a mean thing, your friendship implies that you agree with their behavior.

Be Prepared for a Negative Response

Many times, people don't like to have their mistakes or faults pointed out, so there is a chance that your friend could get really angry or lash out at you. Be prepared for this to happen initially and give them space to work through their emotions. Once your friend recovers from being put on the spot and called out for their behavior, they may realize that you were right.

Of course, there is the chance that your intervention on behalf of the victim may permanently damage your friendship. But you can rest in knowing you did what was right, even if your friend doesn't agree.

A Word From Verywell

Calling out a friend for bullying other people is never an easy task, but it is the right thing to do. If you are concerned you will freeze up or be too afraid to say something if the bullying happens again, you could always talk to your friend and ask why they pick on the victim. It's possible your friend thinks they are not causing any harm, or they may be bullying others because they, too, are being bullied.

You will never know what's behind your friend's actions if you don't ask. Healthy friendships are based on good communication, so opening up a dialogue and trying to figure out what is going on may actually strengthen your friendship in the end.

5 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert.