Everyone has the potential to engage in bullying behaviour to others or be the target of bullying behaviour. Individuals can take on various roles in bullying, and play different roles in different contexts.
Participant roles can include someone who:
- engages in bullying behaviour
- is the target of the bullying behaviour
- assists the bullying and actively joins in
- encourages and gives approval to the bullying; they reinforce it through verbal and non-verbal cues such as smiling, laughing or making comments and signal it is acceptable
- is a bystander. Someone who sees or knows about someone being bullied but for a range of reasons is passive and does participate in the bullying or support the target
- is an upstander. An upstander supports the student who is being bullied by getting help from a teacher, distracting the students engaged in bullying behaviour, supporting the student who is being bullied or directly intervening. These students play an important protective role for peers who are experiencing bullying, have greater empathetic skills and are often perceived by peers to be positive role models. For more information on upstanders, refer to the Upstander resources.
A small number of students are both the target of bullying behaviour and engage in bullying behaviour. These students are particularly vulnerable and may need additional support and intervention.
It is important to remember that children and young people are still learning and practising social skills. Everyone has the capacity to change their behaviour but being given a label can make changing much harder.
All adults, including teachers, school staff and parents, can model positive upstander behaviour and intervene if they observe bullying behaviour occurring between students. Standing by and doing nothing, or leaving students to 'sort it out' themselves, sends the message to the whole school community that the bullying behaviour is acceptable.
While any student can be a target for students who bully, there are factors that make some students more vulnerable to being the target of bullying. These include:
- being different in some way
- being introverted and non-assertive
- having depression or anxiety
- lacking quality friendships at school
- displaying higher levels of emotionality
- exposure to family violence
- having a disability
- having a history of trauma
- belonging to a minority group, where isolation or lack of community support is an issue.