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Upstander Intervention

“Promote upstander behavior. Empower your students with the responsibility to stand up for what is right and to address what is wrong. Provide them with examples of upstander behavior and support them.” –

In the digital world, bystanders are pivotal figures in keeping children safe and preventing further abuse. Dan Olweus, a professor of psychology, and a nationally and internationally recognized expert in bullying prevention, says the bystander is a key component in preventing and stopping bully behavior. His organization defines a bystander in the online world as anyone who may receive emails, texts, images, or view web pages, etc. A bystander has the power to report and stop the behavior, or extend the abuse through inaction and/or forwarding the materials. If the bystander intervenes, the victim can begin receiving help and support. And, Olweus’ research shows that as principles of positive bystander behavior are taught, the occurrence of destructive behavior actually lowers. [1]

At iKeepsafe, we want to encourage the bystanders who intervene and stop inappropriate online behavior. We call this kind of bystander, an upstander. We want to teach young people how to respond to potentially harmful situations safely and responsibly, instead of extending the abuse—either purposefully or unknowingly.

As parents keep current, keep communicating and keep checking, they can model the principles of upstander behavior and help young people within their sphere of influence learn how to appropriately report, intervene, and prevent harmful online actions.

1. Keep Current

Besides cyberbullying, there are many kinds of digital incidents that may be observed by a bystander:

  • Suicide
  • Anorexia
  • Violence
  • Sexual abuse
  • Online Gang recruitment
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Mental illness like depression and anxiety
  • Dating violence
  • Domestic violence
  • Bullying and cyberbullying
  • High risk sexual activity
  • Academic cheating

Any upstander (parent, educator, or child) could benefit these situations. For example:

If your daughter tells you her friend is making comments on Facebook that reveal a possible eating disorder, you could notify the parents to make sure they are aware.

Or, if your son reports that someone has posted a test online, you could notify the school.

Be aware of the social networks your children use and “friend” them on the platform. In this way, you will be able to view their posts/comments and intervene first-hand if any negative digital incidents occur.

2. Keep Communicating

Actively discuss principles of cybercitizenship and upstander behavior at every opportunity.

Ask your children if they have ever witnessed cyber incidents that were unhealthy or abusive. Discuss the possible consequences of acting as a negative bystander and enabling behavior. With their help, develop a plan of action for responding to future incidents.

Follow-up with your discussions, and encourage children to make a difference and speak up against digital abuses. Encourage them to act as advocates for friends who may use the digital world to disclose offline abuse or problems. Let them know they can be a powerful positive force among their friends.

When they report something to you, take it seriously. Help them make a difference in the lives of their friends and acquaintances.

See Bullybust.Org for more discussion ideas and resources.

3. Keep Checking

In addition to discussions, participate with your children on social networks, blogs, etc. Be aware of what they are posting, and what people are posting around them.

As an upstander, you and your children can make a crucial difference in the quality of life for themselves and their friends.


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