Bully. Victim. ONLOOKER. Ally.
1. The bystander didn’t ask to be a part of the action. She was just there when the bully and the victim event happened.
2. How the onlooker reacts depends on internal and external conditions.
- External: what are other bystanders doing about the situation? How risky is it to intervene?
- External: what is the bystander’s relationship to the victim or the bully?
- Internal: how emotionally involved is the bystander? Is he intimidated, incensed, or indifferent?
- Internal: to what degree does a sense of justice motivate the bystander?
The bystander’s decision about what to do is based on perceived risks and benefits – those represented by the current situation as well as the bystander’s past experience. How did it turn out the last time she stuck up for her friend?
Moral courage is doing the “right” thing despite the perceived risks or costs. Having moral courage in a testing situation, depends on on a person’s prior experiences. Trinity School children sit in Chapel every day. They hear and discuss the very human stories of Biblical people struggling to make the right decisions or having to live with the complications of their actions. Then too, parents and teachers modeling and talking about their moral decision making also informs children. Every child know what is right. But why doesn’t every child (or adult person on the planet) do the right thing?
Despite moral training and education, the most powerful indicator of whether or not a child will intervene rather than be a bystander is the child’s own experience of what happened last time.
Learning to transfer the example of what someone else did to your current situation and having the presence of mind to use that example as the basis for making your own decision to act is a huge leap.
We can help children strengthen their moral courage “muscles”:
- without judgment, help a child talk through what he or she saw
- help the child explore how each person in the situation – bully and victim and bystander – was affected
- help the child articulate how the situation made him feel
- help the child explore all the actions that each person (bully, victim, bystander) might have done differently
- help the child think through two or three things she could do in a similar situation such as shouting to draw attention to the situation or going for help
As the adults who love and care for them, we watch, we intervene, we teach, we support, and we help each child start again when things didn’t turn out so well.
Because the playground is the real deal for children. It is where everything the child knows about how to be a fully functioning human on this planet gets tried on, tried out. As children try out their ideas about autonomy and power and interdependence, each child will take on the roles of bully, victim, onlooker, and ally. As children migrate in and out of these roles, they are building their own version of the world.