Upstander, Bystander, Bullying What Does It All Mean?


What does all this mean?

You may have heard of these terms, perhaps bullying is the one that you know best. The word bully has been around for a long time, and we usually associate that word with a person who is causing harm to another person by intimidation and sometimes physical force. I have strong memories of what it was like to be on the receiving end of a bully’s intimidation. I was afraid to go to school, walk home from school and sometimes even afraid of the phone ringing at home. I didn’t feel safe and I didn’t think anyone could help me!

A bystander is someone who literally stands by and watches or ignores the bully torment their victim. This person is enforcing the bully’s power and control over the victim. When I was being bullied there wasn’t a word for the other kids who stood by and watched as I was getting kicked in the hallways, or when I was getting shoved into lockers. Sometimes they even followed the bully in groups to watch as the bully pushed, shoved and punched me on my way home. A bystander is actually helping the bully to intimidate their victim and to make the victim see that they are in fact alone and there is no help for them.

An upstander is someone who is there for the victim. This is the most important skill that we can teach to our children and to the people around us. I had friends, who were there when a bully would approach, but they didn’t know how to help. One day I was walking with two of my friends and a bully came up behind me. She was upset about a comment that I had made during phys-ed class. She approached from behind and grabbed the back of my shirt. She asked me why I said what I did, and of course I hardly remembered the comment and stuttered some kind of answer. She proceeded to punch me in the back of the neck and she had rings on every finger. I remember the pain as it shot through my neck into my head and back. My friends were stunned and  didn’t really know how to help. I remember one of my friends told her to stop. I somehow managed to wriggle free and ran across the street. I was so glad I wasn’t alone that day, who knows what would have happened.

Making a choice

In every situation we have choices. It is up to us to decide what we are going to do in that moment. Do we stand by and watch as someone torments another person? Do we forward that picture that made us laugh even though we know it is probably embarrassing to the person in the photo? Do we stand up for the person who is the victim of the “joke”? Do we contact the victim and let them know what is being said and done behind their back?

In our digital age the lines between bully and bystander have become very blurred. It is too easy to forward or repost what we find without thinking how the subject of the post will feel.

What difference does it make?

You can make a huge difference in someone’s life if you chose to be an upstander. Very few people help support or surround the victim and even if one person is there to help them and show them they are not alone… you can save a life. There were many nights where I laid in my bed and felt so alone, like I didn’t matter or that no one was on my side. There were several times where I contemplated suicide, and planned out how I was going to end my life. I had a couple people to lean on who kept me alive. You could be that person for someone.

How can I be an upstander in this digital world?

There are many ways to be an upstander. It can be as easy as:

  • Not forwarding or reposting something that you know will hurt someone.
  • Report a post to the social media platform.
  • Contact the subject of the post and let them know what is going on.
  • Friend the victim and make sure they know they have someone in their corner
  • Let others know that by forwarding (participating) they are just as bad as the bully

How to encourage others to prevent cyberbullying?

Bullies lose their power when they don’t have bystanders to help them intimidate. When you begin to be an upstander you can see how it takes the wind out the bullies sails. Share this information with the other people in your life and let them know how they can help. Share the points that I outlined above, to give them ways to become an upstander with you.

Hire Angela to speak with your students

Image Copyright: ocusfocus / 123RF Stock Photo


  • Sherry commented on September 22, 2016

    Well written from a personal experience with bullying . Sharing is empowering for you and helps others.

    • Angela commented on September 22, 2016

      Thank you Sherry.

Comments are closed