A study by Dr Nicola Abbott, a lecturer at Canterbury Christ Church University, has found that youngsters who witness another child being bullied want to help – but don’t know the right way to go about it.
Young people often worry that they might say the wrong thing or that the bully will turn on them.
Research shows, however, that when people stand up for someone who is being bullied the bully tends to stop within 10 seconds.
Speaking at the Economic and Social Research Council’s 2014 Festival of Social Science earlier this month, Dr Abbott said that children who are taught what they can say to bullies are more likely to stick up for others when they see bullying take place.
Dr Abbott led an anti-bullying programme for 12 and 13-year-olds to improve awareness of this issue.
Students used role play to learn how to stand up to bullies, using sentences like “I would like you to stop calling him/her names” and “I know you are probably only joking, but I think you’re upsetting him/her”.
The focus was on being assertive, but not aggressive, and the youngsters were encouraged to start sentences with the same key words, such as “I know”, “I would” and “I think”.
Afterwards the pupils took part in a chatroom simulation where they observed someone being picked on by two other users. Those who had participated in the anti-bullying programme proved far more likely to intervene on the victim’s behalf.
“My research suggests that given the right advice and tools, children can be empowered to stand up to bullies,” said Dr Abbott.
“Chatrooms are the ideal place to start because not seeing someone face-to-face could make young people less anxious about defending someone.”