Witnesses to the bullying scene : a narrative analysis of pre-adolescent bystanders.
Bullying at school is commonplace in South Africa and appears to be on the increase (Burton, 2007). De Wet (2006) regards this phenomenon as one of the most underestimated problems in South African schools today. Not only does it affect learners’ physical and psychological safety but their developmental trajectories as well (Courtois & Ford, 2009; Pepler, Craig, Jiang, & Connolly, 2008). Compared to the plethora of research carried out internationally on this subject, it seems that little has been done to systematically understand the phenomenon from a South African perspective (De Wet, 2006). Since the 1990s, bullying has become increasingly conceptualised as a group phenomenon. As research in this field expands beyond the bully-victim dyad, the role of the bystander warrants more attention. It is now widely accepted that the bystander plays an unavoidably active role in peer victimization with a growing body of evidence suggesting they have the power to either facilitate, or impede bullying behaviours (Craig & Pepler, 1997; Twemlow, Fonagy & Sacco, 2004; Salmivalli, Lagerspetz, Bjorkvist, Osterman, and Kaukiainen, 1996). The question that remains to be answered, is how young bystanders can be encouraged to engage in prosocial actions and intervene to stop the victimisation of their peers? This study comprises an attempt to answer this question by giving voice to, and exploring, the experiences and decisional processes of pre-adolescent bystanders from their own perspective, using an experience-centered narrative approach (Squire, 2008). Based on the written and oral narratives of seven Grade 7 learners, the results obtained mirror international findings and emphasise the power of group mechanisms when influencing the bystanding behaviour of preadolescent children. Each participant adopted a variety of bystander roles shaped by a wide range of contextual factors. Fear of social exclusion, relations to the victim, prior experiences as victim and bully, parental influence, social norms, and the presence of other bystanders, appears to guide the way young people reason, feel and act on moral issues in social situations. These findings are discussed with reference to previous research on the role and responses of the bystander in bullying situations.