Beating the Bystander Effect: Part I

Reports of hate crimes and harassment have increased since the election. Several places are tracking these reports; a great place to get a current picture is the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hate Watch. (To note, as expected, this link does contain offensive language and racial slurs.)

How do we prepare students to resist this kind of social situation? One way is by teaching about the bystander effect. This is the first in a short series of posts about ways to model and rehearse effective intervention with studentshopefully before they are in a situation where they need to act.

First up is an article from The Greater Good that includes both notes on research, observations on how the bystander effect plays out across developmental stages in young children, and some tips on teaching kids to move into action.

Research points to a number of ways we can do this:

  • Explicit teaching. “It might be a good idea to teach children about the bystander effect and its consequences, and responsibility in helping situations, from early in development,” says Plötner. Other research suggests that explicitly communicating responsibility and singling out children individually (“I will be counting on you”) increases their helping.
  • Modeling. Preschoolers are more helpful and sympathetic to children who hurt themselves if their own caregivers display kindness and compassion. “It could be helpful if authorities model helping in bystander situations, so that children learn about the positive consequences of such actions,” adds Plötner.
  • Environmental cues. In one study, simply exposing children to a subtle image of two dolls facing each other was enough to increase helping in 18-month-olds. Schools could use that kind of imagery, along with slogans like “It’s my job to help,” to create a kinder environment.

And from Quartz, here’s a basic step-by-step procedure appropriate for older students about how to intervene safely in a racist attack. This article is short and includes some great concrete tips that high schoolers in particular might find helpful.

  • Speak only from your own perspective. Too often people start speaking for the person who is being attacked. This stops the victim from speaking up, who is likely to do so if he or she finds support from bystanders. For instance, if a person is being abused for wearing a hijab, don’t say that the victim does so because of her religion. Instead, speak about how people have the freedom to choose how they dress.
  • Ask others to help. In most situations, you are likely to outnumber the attacker.
  • Use your camera. Racial attacks are a criminal offense in most countries. If you don’t feel comfortable engaging directly, you can record the event on your phone. This could be vital evidence to punish the perpetrator in the future.

More to come!

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