Reasons Why Bystanders Do Not Speak Up

boy being bullied, others in background

Witnessing bullying is a troubling experience for most young people. In fact, many kids who see bullying at school often feel scared, anxious and helpless. Not only does consistent school bullying impact school climate and learning, but it also can have an effect on an individual's health and wellbeing. For instance, some research suggests that bullying may have as much of an effect on kids who witness it like those kids who are victims of bullying.

Yet, few kids report the bullying. Not only do they fail to stand up to the bully, but they also never report what they see to an adult. While many of the kids simply do not know what to do, there are a variety of other reasons that contribute to their silence. Here are the top seven reasons why bystanders remain silent.

Why Bystanders Usually Say Nothing Against Bullying

Fear the bully will retaliate. Fear is perhaps the number one reason kids stay silent. They are afraid that if they tell someone, the bully will target them next. This belief is especially true for bystanders who have been victims of bullying before. They often look at bullying situations and are simply thankful they are not being targeted.

Experience pressure to keep quiet. Many times, a clique or a group of mean girls is responsible for the bullying. As a result, the bystanders are often kids that want to be accepted by the group or are part of the group. So rather than stand up for the victim, they succumb to peer pressure and remain silent about the issue.

Struggle with uncertainty. Many times, bystanders will see a bullying incident and they know it is wrong, but they have no idea what to do. For this reason, it is extremely important for parents, coaches, and teachers to take steps to empower bystanders to take action. Most of the time, bullying occurs in front of other people. If bystanders are instructed on what to do when they witness bullying, they will be more likely to step in and help someone.

Worry about being called a snitch. When it comes to bullying at school or bullying in sports, there is often an unspoken rule about secrecy, especially among kids who are between the ages of 11 and 14. No one wants to be called a tattletale or a rat, so they turn their heads and try to forget about it. To deal with this mindset, teachers, coaches and parents need to educate kids on the difference between reporting something and being a tattletale. Standing up for someone who is being victimized should be touted as a courageous act.

Assume adults won’t do anything anyway. Unfortunately, many kids have reported bullying only to find that the adult they reported it to either ignored it or failed to take action. Despite all the progress in bullying prevention, there are still many adults who would rather ignore a bullying situation than deal with it. Additionally, there are some schools that encourage kids to navigate the situations on their own. This leaves kids feeling apathetic about bullying. They are left with an attitude of “it won’t do any good anyway.” For this reason, schools need bullying prevention policies that require teachers and coaches to act.

Feel it’s none of their business. Many kids have been taught to stay out of situations that don’t involve them. While this is solid advice for normal conflict, it is not good advice for bullying situations. When bullying occurs, there is an imbalance of power and the victim needs help and support from others. They simply cannot handle a bullying situation on their own. For this reason, it is important that parents, teachers, and coaches let kids know that if someone is being bullied, they have a responsibility to report it to an adult.

Believe the victim deserves it. Sometimes kids will make judgments about victims when they witness bullying. For instance, they might feel that the victim encouraged the bullying by “being annoying” or “being arrogant.” But kids need to learn that everyone deserves to be treated with respect. And no one deserves to be bullied. Until this mindset changes, kids will continue to be silent when others are bullied.

Was this page helpful?
2 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.
  1. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. How does bullying affect health and well-being?.

  2. Effects of bullying.