Video of student bully in action goes viral. Why didn't anybody step in?

Beth Greenfield
Senior Writer
Footage of a school bully in action has led to the suspension and police arrest of one student — so far. (Photo: WTAE)

An upsetting video of a teen with special needs getting shoved and slapped at school by a fellow student is igniting anger across the internet.

The minute of footage, shot by an unidentified observer, shows teens walking from a high school to a neighboring career and technical center at a Pennsylvania high school in the Connellsville Area School District; it has the faces of the minors blurred so they cannot be identified. The video was posted by WTAE Pittsburgh news anchor Kelly Brennan on Facebook, where it has gotten more than 770 shares and 400 reactions and comments since Monday.

“A student in the Connellsville School District was bullied on Friday by another classmate — who is seen in this video physically attacking him, twice,” noted Brennan in her post, in which a girl in a red hoodie is seen charging a boy from behind and shoving him, after which other students can be heard saying “push him again” to her. “The male student, according to the district, is a special-needs student. The female aggressor was suspended and charged by school police.”

She added: “The superintendent says the investigation isn’t over — while the incident was reported to them Friday, the district didn’t know about the video until today. After watching it, the superintendent says there clearly needs to be more disciplinary action taken against others who also played a part in this. He has a strong message about how this behavior isn’t tolerated…”

That message from Superintendent Philip Martell, as aired by WTAE on Monday night, was this: “We’re better than that. And we have to make them aware of these situations, how hurtful it can be to an individual and to families, and that if they do choose to go down this path, we won’t accept it and they’ll be immediate consequences and that’s what we did in this case.”

Martell said that officials took immediate action after the incident and the perpetrator was suspended and charged by police within an hour, but that it’s likely more students will face disciplinary action.

One of the most striking parts of the video is how not a single one of the roughly 10 other students witnessing the attack stepped in to prevent it or to support the young man.

According to adolescent psychologist Barbara Greenberg, that’s due to a combination of factors — including “diffusion of responsibility,” a socio-psychological group phenomenon during which everyone assumes somebody else will do something, so nobody does anything. “It’s also called the bystander effect,” she says.

But beyond that, Greenberg tells Yahoo Lifestyle, is a trait that’s particular to adolescents: They are “extremely self-conscious.” Because of that, she explains, “They don’t step in to help. They’re afraid that if they get involved they’ll be the next victim — or that they’ll make a fool of themselves.”

But not all kids would react with such complicit silence. And raising one who feels emboldened enough to stand up for what’s right, Greenberg stresses, “has to start at home, where you teach a kid that it’s a brave and wonderful thing to do.”

If the personality of your child is not quite suited for such heroics, she advises, at least “tell them to immediately look for an adult” if they notice a classmate being bullied.

“You have to work with that kid’s personality and temperament,” she says. Maybe they’re timid and quiet, or all about ensuring “a just world.” But either way, “Don’t ask your child to do something you don’t think they are capable of doing,” Greenberg says, suggesting that role playing could prepare your child with how to react in potential bully situations. Beyond that, she adds, “The culture of schools needs to change.”

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