In this situation, would you intervene?

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You and your spouse are in a grocery store. You see a man in his mid-40s walking with a 5-year-old girl. He has the girl’s hair wrapped around the handle of the grocery cart. The girl is “crying: ‘Please stop! I won’t do it again’” (Mele, 2016).

Before covering the bystander effect, describe that scenario to your students. Ask your students to jot down what they would do, and then share their responses with one or two students near them.

Ask for volunteers to share their responses (or collect anonymous responses by paper or using a classroom response system). Note the responses. Do they fall into the bystander intervention decision tree?

  1. We first have to notice that something is happening. Since the scenario is presented, students have no choice but to notice. But do some students respond by saying that they would act like they hadn’t noticed?
  2. After noticing, we have to interpret what we are seeing as something that needs our attention. Did some of your students decide that it was okay for this man to treat this child this way? Do your students differ on what appropriate parenting looks like?
  3. Lastly, we have to decide that we have a responsibility to help. That help can take many forms, from confronting the man to contacting store security to calling the police. The type of help given may depend on how threatened the students believe they would be by the man.

Introduce this decision tree to students using their responses.

This incident took place in Cleveland, Texas in mid-September, 2016. A woman, Erika Burch, who was shopping with her husband did respond. She confronted the man. He did not let the girl go. The woman called 911. A police officer who happened to be in the store quickly appeared, and at that point, the man – the girl’s father – let go of the child’s hair.

If time allows, ask students who chose not to intervene in the hypothetical situation how the scenario would have needed to be different for them to intervene. For students who chose to intervene, ask what kinds of parenting discipline would be okay enough for them not to intervene.



Mele, C. (2016, September 28). Should you intervene when a parent harshly disciplines a child in public? Retrieved from

About the Author
Sue Frantz has taught psychology since 1992. She has served on several APA boards and committees, and was proud to serve the members of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology as their 2018 president. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. She received in 2016 the highest award for the teaching of psychology--the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award. She presents nationally and internationally on the topics of educational technology and the pedagogy of psychology. She is co-author with Doug Bernstein and Steve Chew of Teaching Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide, 3rd ed. and is co-author with Charles Stangor on Introduction to Psychology, 4.0.