Victim Reports of Bystander Reactions to In-Person and Online Peer Harassment: A National Survey of Adolescents

J Youth Adolesc. 2015 Dec;44(12):2308-20. doi: 10.1007/s10964-015-0342-9. Epub 2015 Aug 28.


Bullying prevention is increasingly targeting education to bystanders, but more information is needed on the complexities of bystander actions across a wide variety of incidents, including both online and in-person peer harassment. The current study analyzes victim report data from a nationally representative survey of youth ages 10-20 (n = 791; 51% female). Bystander presence was common across all harassment incident types (80% of incidents). In contrast to previous research, our study found that supportive bystander behaviors occurred at relatively high rates. Unfortunately, antagonistic bystander behaviors, although less common, were predictive of higher negative impact for the victim. A large percentage of victims (76%) also disclosed the harassment to confidants, who play an important role as secondary bystanders. While friends were the most common confidant, incidents were also disclosed to adults at high rates (60%) and with mostly positive results. The findings suggest that prevention programs could increase their impact by targeting education to both direct witnesses and confidants, and considering a wider variety of peer victimization incident types.

Keywords: Bullying; Bystanders; Cyberbullying; Internet; Prevention; Youth.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology*
  • Bullying*
  • Child
  • Child Behavior / psychology*
  • Crime Victims / psychology*
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Internet*
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Peer Group*
  • Social Support*
  • United States
  • Young Adult