The Portsmouth Herald (N.H.), Sept. 16:

Bullying among our youth has become a hot-button topic the last few years as well-publicized incidents, especially of cyberbullying, resulting in trauma and even suicides by victims, have made headlines.

A new study by the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire provides interesting insight into this nasty phenomenon – and lots of hope.

Turns out the common perception of a bullied child cowering alone in a school hall, or suffering online taunts day after day without hope of relief, is relatively rare.

And, support from peers and adults during and even after an incident can do a lot of good.

The study of 791 youths looked at all types of bullying cases. It found that bystanders were present in 80 percent of situations, and in 70 percent of incidents these people tried to make the victim feel better. This is a positive revelation.

More than half of these bystanders comforted the victims or confronted the harassers, or both.

Negative behavior by bystanders was far less common, with those joining in against the victim 24 percent of the time or laughing at him or her 23 percent of the time.

Not surprisingly, the study found that negative behavior by bystanders has a significant harmful impact on the victim. And bystanders who help the victim can have a positive impact, but more study is needed to determine the best ways to do that.

One of the most important points is that we need to expand our definition of bystanders.

These are not just the kids or adults who witness the bullying. They include friends, peers and adults the victim may talk to later about it. Victims reported positive benefits from having these secondary bystanders take action, even after the incident.

In other words, don’t neglect to take action because you weren’t there. Comfort the victim, tell someone in authority, be proactive. It helps.

“Someone who hears about the victimization … is an important ‘secondary’ bystander, with the opportunity to support the victim emotionally and prevent further harassment or bullying,” said the study.

All this has implications for society, especially in our schools.

Bullying has gotten serious attention in the educational community and this research shows just how important it is to keep that up. We need to reinforce with our kids that it is not OK to stand by while someone else is bullied. They need to intervene and tell an adult.

In 60 percent of instances in which a youth told an adult about the incident, more than half of victims felt adults made the situation better. This is contrary to the reasons most victims did not tell an adult: fear their involvement would worsen the situation. False fears, it turns out.

“Those who hear about the harassment experience … play an important role in prevention and support,” said the study.

Researchers indicated they felt prevention programs to improve the “response skills” of other youths to bullying incidents could be particularly helpful. Friends are the primary confidants for victims, but victims may confide in anyone they know. If more kids are taught how to respond when bullying occurs, they can have a real impact.

There are good lessons here for educators and parents.

And we all should feel good that most kids and adults who witness bullying try to do the right thing. This is an awful topic, but there is hope amid the tears.