Be an "upstander" not a bystander is the message from a group working to challenge New Zealand's bullying culture.

This week Newstalk ZB's Kerre McIvor penned an open letter to bullies expressing her regret she'd failed to stop when witnessing a young boy being bullied in Western Springs.

Her letter raised questions around what the appropriate response is when seeing bullying in action; with readers both praising her for her candour and criticising her for not doing more to help.

Vicki Edwards-Brown founded a Charitable Trust, Be the Change NZ, to teach young people how to step in when they witnessed bullying.


She said knowing what to do could be tough as there was no "one-size-fits-all approach" but said being an "upstander" was a good start.

"Speak up #upstand - stop bullying," was the mantra she'd put on her website that offered advice on what to do with bullies.

An upstander was described as someone who was "willing to stand up and take action in defence of others".

Edwards-Brown said for those walking past an incident the first thing to do was to step in and ask the person being bullied if they wanted help.

"If I was walking as an adult and saw young people bullying someone I absolutely would stop and would intervene and talk to the victim."

However, Edwards-Brown said if there was physical abuse happening it was also important to call the police.

"It's abuse and it's wrong."

The New Zealand Police also advised members of the public to call 111 if they believed a person was in danger.

Edwards-Brown said in day-to-day examples of bullying people might come across at school or in the workplace there were other strategies to employ.

"There's really good power in diverting attention away from what's happening, so taking the victim to a safe place by saying to them: 'Are you okay? Do you want to come with us?'"

Edwards-Brown said other strategies included questioning the bullies' actions, questioning rumours being spread, writing positive words to the victim, or sitting with someone who is being left out.

She said often those doing the bullying were victims themselves who had not been taught to act kindly.

So she said it was equally important to teach them bullying was wrong.

"Ask them, 'why are you doing that? That's really mean. We are all great people, so it's not okay to be mean'."

Encouraging young people to be "upstanders" and to eliminate bullying in New Zealand was a key driver behind Edwards-Brown starting up the charitable trust.

"We surveyed a really good reach of Canterbury's young people ... and we found every single one of them had experienced bullying within that week."

She said her work, which she took to schools around the country, was all about empowering young people to challenge bullying.

"Bullying is not okay, we can have so much better lives if we concentrate ourselves to do positive things in the communities.

"When they learn that they are giving to someone, they feel just as good as if they have been given something."