Department of Education, University of York, York YO10 5DD, UNITED KINGDOM.
Bystanders play an important role in school bullying dynamics, having the power to provide or withhold the social rewards bullies seek. Bystander support is also beneficial for bullying victims, who experience less social and mental health problems if they have defenders. Even though bystanders generally disapprove of bullying, they rarely intervene in bullying incidents. Research suggests that two factors closely related to bystander intervention in bullying are moral disengagement and self-efficacy. Cultural influences and gender may also play a part in bullying and bystander dynamics.
The main aim of this study was to explore Mexican secondary school students’ perceptions of their role in bullying situations. The study focused on gender differences in these perceptions, students' levels of self-efficacy, students’ use of moral disengagement dynamics, and student receptivity to material that encourages prosocial bystander behaviour. A questionnaire was developed to gauge students’ views on these topics, and administered to a sample of 186 secondary school students. Focus groups were also conducted to gain insight on group understandings and norms. A six-session workshop was designed and implemented to expose students to material on prosocial bystander behaviour.
Results suggested that most students feel empathy towards bullying victims and acknowledge that they have the power to make a difference. However, participants are reluctant to put ideas into action for fear of bully retaliation and the belief that they cannot rely on support from other peers and school staff. This sense of powerlessness seems to have a cultural component to it, and is more common in male students. Other gender differences were observed: females displayed higher self-efficacy to help and lower moral disengagement levels.
Research on cultural influences on bullying and bystander behaviour worldwide is needed, as well as further research on the implications, obstacles and opportunities of gender differences in this regard. Studies on what bystanders need to feel safe when helping bullying victims would also be a valuable resource for anti-bullying intervention efforts.