Use the movie “Bully” to spark discussion in your community

When I discuss bullying with others in my community, the question and comment that I hear many times is, “What can I do?”  or “The issue is so big, it will never get resolved.”  I know I feel that way sometimes.  It does take a lot of resolve to continue on with the cause because the problem does seem overwhelming at times.  However, if I can make a difference for just one kid or parent, the fight will have been worth it.  The following is one way I intend to bring attention to the topic in my community.

I wanted to share one idea I have that would be simple for anyone to implement.  I have done some writing about the movie “Bully.”  This was recently renamed and was originally named “They Bully Project.”  It is being released in select theaters on March 9th.  This is a powerful film and I think it is an excellent springboard for discussion on the topic.  It takes a very real and raw look at bullying and what goes on every day in the lives of those the movie follows.  I intend to plan a school outing.  I will select a  time to get as many people from our school to attend as possible.  With online ticket buying, it makes it possible for anyone to purchase a ticket who is interested in attending the film.  After we have watched The Bully Project, I will have two rooms set aside in a local church to keep cost as low as possible.  I believe it is important for both kids and parents to have separate conversations after viewing the film.   (As an aside, I have to say that I wouldn’t do this with kids that were younger than middle school age.  Parents will have to make their own decision about who will go.  Personally, I am taking my 7th grader, but will not take my 4th grader.)  I have already arranged to have a friend of mine who is also very active in the anti-bullying movement come in and be a moderator in the room with the kids.  I want them to have someone who can build a caring atmosphere quickly, but yet don’t really know so they can talk candidly after the movie.  After the separate discussions, parents should be strongly encouraged to have discussions with their own children as they feel is appropriate.

Some Parent Discussion topics

Several topics are highly likely to arise during parent discussion.

  1. Parents will see how difficult it can be at the school level to deal with bullying.  Parents have worked hard to get as many rights as possible with the schools.  However, this is also crippling the schools from doing what they know is best.  We do have administrators that are afraid of parents.  That fear does prevent schools from doing what they need to do to make school a secure place.  We must encourage parents to support the school but also hold the school accountable for keeping all children safe.
  2. Some parents may be dealing with a situation where their child is the bully.  We must also be encouraging with those parents as well.  Parents and schools must have a no excuse policy.  Rather than accepting the excuse, we need to start asking, how are we going to help the child who has been scarred by a bully?
  3. Just as we want to help the child who is being bullied, the bully must also be helped.  Parents need to be encouraged to allow their child to be helped.  I truly believe a parent who has a bully for a child is not necessarily a bad parent.  The line into bad parenting is crossed when parents refuse to help the child or allow others to help.  Then they are doing a huge disservice to their child.
  4. I think that parents are also going to want help and suggestions on how to talk to their children about this movie.  Many kids want to know how it applies to them.  I think it is a very different conversation based a child’s personality.  Some parents will appeal their child’s compassion and tell them to treat others in a kind and compassionate way.  This can also include standing up for someone else.  Others might appeal to their child’s sense of self-preservation.  Most parents will remember several of the school shootings.  The shooters were children who were being bullied.  Most of the time, those children go after those who were the bullies first.  Parents must get across to their children that actions and words have power and we must make those positive.
  5. One last thing that would make for an interesting topic would be talking about how much are we in charge of parenting children that are not ours.  If we see something going on, do we step in and stop it?  How much do we, as parents, perpetuate the bullying by turning a blind eye at times?  I can assure you I do not have the answer to these questions, but the discussion would be worth bringing up.
  6. The biggest thing we can do and get across to all parents is accountability.  We need to be accountable for teaching our children how to treat others, the schools need to be accountable for keeping all children safe, our children need to be accountable for their actions, and we all must be accountable for keeping everyone in check.  Bullying affects our children either directly or indirectly.  Even if children are not directly involved in a bullying incident, they shouldn’t have to watch it going on around them either.  In a society that likes to point a finger and not take any blame, we must shoulder blame when it is warranted and not pass the blame on others.  How would the outcomes in the movie have been different if there had been more accountability?

At the end of the group discussion, parents need to be encouraged to have a discussion with their children while the movie is still fresh in their minds.  It will be important they continue the discussion with their children to help continue to encourage them as they work for change.

Kid Discussion Topics

The kids will have a whole different perspective on the movie than the adults.  Approaching this from several different angles is key to a productive discussion.  Kids have such a power to make change.  It will be important to get them excited about making a positive change in their community.

  1.  First, I would ask the kids if they thought this was a real portrayal bullying.  If I had to guess, I would say many would say that they have seen things like what happened in the movie.  They might even begin to tell of things that have happened to them specifically if they feel safe with the people in the room.  Through the conversation, kids might also start to see where they have been passive about something and not stood up for someone when they could have.  I would also ask if there were things in the movie they found surprising or even shocking.
  2.  Each school environment is unique.  The kids could list what things in their school environment promote positive actions among kids and what things need some work.  Through this discussion, they can also start thinking of adults in their lives who promote a healthy environment and those who don’t.  It shouldn’t become a discussion who they like and don’t like, but one of who in their school wants to make sure that harmful interactions are not taking place.  As they delve further into the discussion, kids can even identify times in the day when bullying is prone to happen and when it is better contained.
  3. Once kids have identified some of the problem areas and positive areas, they should make a wish list.  In a perfect world, what changes would they make in their lives, communities, and schools.  Once the list is made, discuss what would they would realistically be able to do.  This is a time to really work on empowering our young people.  We need the adults to help with the shift in thought, but kids need to realize they have just as much of an impact if not more.  When they stand together and become determined to change the world around them, they will do just that.

For all this is just a discussion suggestion.  The first and most important thing is to get the discussion going.  All adults must realize that influence they have and the accountability that must take place on their part.  Kids need to feel empowered to make changes in the world around them.  Both adults and kids need to start to be the change to make our society more connected and encouraging.

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Bullying and Suicide

Watching the news the last couple of weeks has been saddening.  Several stories have emerged about young teens taking their lives because they were bullied.  It just breaks my heart.

As I read through the stories, I find a few things in common.  First, it seems that when kids are interviewed about the suicide victim, they talk about how they were really nice, or a loner.  The peers in question also knew that the child was being bullied.  When I read this, it makes me stop and think why didn’t any other student in the school stand up for that kid.  I believe the answer lies in the fact that our society has made standing up to bullying unacceptable, thereby endorsing bullying.    Not only that, in some ways it is common sense and self-preservation on the part of the peer.  The peer sees students who are getting picked on daily and know that if they try to step up, they will be next on the list.  Often they have watched the student go to many adults in the school only to run into a brick wall each time.  They are hesitant to step up because, from what they have observed, if they were to come under fire, there would be no help for them either.

This leads me to my second commonality.  When questioned, most administrators will make a couple of different comments.  First, they will almost always say that the kid was a good kid.  Then they will either go on to say that they had no idea the bullying was going on, or that while the kid was a good kid, they had other problems that more than likely contributed to the suicide.  This is a nice way to absolve themselves of their absence from the problem.

When I read these statements, it just leads to more questions than answers.  First, if the administration truly thought that the student was a “good kid”, why would they not believe them when help was requested or stand up to help them?  Also, when I hear about some saying that the bullying wasn’t the only problem, what is that supposed to mean?  Do they truly know how dark and lonely it can be when you are constantly looking over your shoulder wondering from which direction the next blow will come?  Have they not seen the brain research that states that a child who is constantly bullied actually has a different brain than those who are not?  It also begs the question, which came first?  Do some of the other issues, such as depression for example, happen as a result of being bullied?  It is a dark world for a child who is being bullied.

The more I read and research bullying and its effects, the more that I realize we are going about dealing with bullying in the wrong way.  As a society, we must take a stand and let the ones who are bullied know they are not the ones who have something wrong with them.  It is the bully.  The bully is the one who needs the help.  Until we unite and decide as a society that we will work aggressively with the bully to correct their behavior, the bullying cycle will continue to grow.  Until we teach and foster an atmosphere of compassion for our fellow human beings, we will have the problems that make our schools an ugly place to go for far too many children.  Bullying is a cancer in our society that has been left untreated and continues to grow.  It makes our society an uncivilized place to live.  We must take a stand and help change our society for the better.

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No more excuses

I am tired of excuses.  I feel as though I have heard a million of them lately.  We need to stop accepting them and do right by our youth.

Excuses administrators give of the student who is the bully –

  • Well, you know he has a tough home life.
  • He has a lot of issues with learning.
  • She is in a tough phase in her life right now.
  • It isn’t as though he is physically hitting your child.
  • She thinks this is the way to make friends.
  • Many of the boys act that way.
  • Most of the girls seem to love her, what is different with your child?

Those all convey the message it is o.k. for the bully to do what he/she wants.

Excuses administrators give of the student who is being bullied –

  • Why doesn’t he stand up for himself?
  • She is a little awkward with the other girls.
  • He needs to work on his social skills.
  • She shouldn’t care what other people think about her.
  • Let’s help ________ to deal with this better.
  • He will be stronger when he learns how to deal with this.
  • She is nice and that makes her a target.
  • He needs to learn to not let people take advantage of him.

To all of this I say STOP IT!  By saying these things to parents who have a child who is being bullied the only message that is being sent is that it is the child who is being bullied who needs to change.   All these excuses are ways to put up smoke screens and make the sand deeper so our heads can be buried.  Because the kids being bullied have a target on them already, we have administrators who are taking aim as well. Maybe we need to start telling administrators –

  • You need to start dealing with bullying because it will make you a stronger person if you learn how to deal with this.
  • Why don’t you stand up for the kids who don’t have the courage right now?
  • You shouldn’t care what the other parents think.
  • Let’s send you to a workshop to help you deal with this better.
  • By being lenient you are letting the bullies take advantage of you.

Maybe administrators need to start taking their own advice.

What excuses do you hear from your schools?

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The Bully Project Pt. 3

Alex was a 14-year-old from Iowa who was in the middle of a serious bullying situation.  He was not very social and kids did not accept him.  In the movie, we saw how he was taunted as well as physically and mentally abused by peers day after day.  He was so beaten down he commented at one point that he didn’t even thing he felt anything anymore.  What a sad, sad thing to hear from a child.  The filmmakers working on the documentary got scared for Alex’s safety and went to the parents with the video of what they had observed on the bus.  The family didn’t even realize the extent of his daily persecution.  Once Alex’s parents had all of the information, they went straight to the school for help.

Alex’s story angered me not only because of what he had to endure, but because of the response of the administrators at his school.  Unfortunately, it is a scene that is all too
familiar to many families who have had to deal with bullying.  When the parents went to the principal and she verified Alex’s bus route, she proceeded to tell the parents that the
students on that bus route are “as good as gold.”  She said this after the parents had watched video of their son being pushed around and punched repeatedly by several
different students.

The principal does make a request to the assistant principal to do some investigating into the situation.  The assistant principal does go on to reprimand the boys, but not the
full extent she should have.  Then she calls in Alex to talk with him.  She also berates him because he wasn’t standing up for himself and he needed to tell someone what was going on.  He said he had reported things and nothing was done.  The principal points out that when he did report a specific incident, she got them to stop doing that specific thing.
That is an insult to Alex.  He didn’t just want that one thing to stop; he wanted ALL of the harassment and bullying to stop.  He was absolutely correct to call her out on and the assistant principal was incredibly disrespectful to feel that she had helped by stopping only one of the many things that those boys were doing to Alex on the bus.

This same principal also was shown working with another bullying situation earlier in the film. She was dealing with a bully and his target after an altercation at the
school.  She requests that the boys shake hands.  The bully immediately puts out
his hand to take the hand of the child who is the target.  The boy who is the target is reluctant to shake and really has no desire to touch the boy who has been doing the bullying.  I can’t say that I blame him.  Once the target finally does shake
the hand it is paltry at best.  The principal then goes after the boy who is a target and berates him for hurting the bully’s feelings by not shaking his hand.  She also tells the target that she thought he and the bully could be great friends if the target would give him a chance.  Once again, the target’s feelings are dismissed and they have somehow become the one in the wrong.

After watching this principal in action, I felt physically ill.  Quite honestly, I hope she has been dismissed from her job in exchange for someone more adept at handling bullying
situations.  Schools want to help the target of the bully by giving them strategies to help them to get the bullying to stop.  I am not against this, but on the flip side, they are only paving the way for the bully to go on to another target and not doing anything to help them become socially responsible.  We absolutely, positively MUST work with the child who is being a bully.  The thing is, the bullies may move away from Alex, but I guarantee many will go on to find another child to harass and make miserable.  By only helping Alex, we have saved him, but insured hard times for the next one in line, whoever that may be.  When we start taking on the bullies, we will begin to break the cycle and begin to make our schools a safer and more pleasant place to learn.

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The Bully Project Pt. 2

The Bully Project opened with video of Tyler as a younger child and went on to show him at many different stages of life. He was a nice looking boy and didn’t have anything that would really call attention to him. For whatever reason, Tyler was a target for bullies.  The school district denied that there was anything going on with this boy. He was a child who had trouble socially, but was very good at martial arts. He started to become more and more withdrawn.  Eventually, the bullying became too much and his life came to a tragic end when he committed suicide by hanging himself in his bedroom closet.

Tyler’s parents are now on a mission to show the effects of severe bullying.  The
pain that these parents feel is one of the first things that come through loud
and clear. They wonder what life would be like if he was still alive. What
things would he have gone on to do? This teenage boy took his life because he
thought that there was no other way to ease his pain. The ones who were bullying him convinced him life wasn’t worth living anymore.  That school system failed to keep Tyler safe and that should never happen.

The thing most troubling about this scenario was the way that administration had a seemingly complete lack of interest in the subject. Tyler’s parents held a town forum to address bullying and specifically invited the school board and administration. When the
moderator asked for anyone representing the school to come forward, no one was there to speak on the schools behalf. There were detectives there and even police officers. No one there seemed to know what to do either. Bullying has become so rampant and no precedent has been set and so nothing happens.

I believe that many situations like Tyler’s play out in schools in the country every day. Lacking the knowledge about what to do, they opt to do nothing for fear they might run into trouble.  Our schools officials and teachers must be trained to deal effectively with
bullying. I also have to reiterate here that we need to take a look at who really needs the help. The student being bullied will absolutely need help because it is emotionally and mentally scarring to be torn down and picked on day after day. However, the bigger problem is to help those that are doing the bullying. It is evident that those students who are doing the bullying do not have any idea how to be acceptable with their peers. We can remove the target from the situation, but those who bully will move on to hurt others. Until we take on the bullies, things will not change and, as seen in Tyler’s case, the
results can be deadly.

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The Bully Project

I had the opportunity to attend a premiere of the movie, “The Bully Project.” It was showing at the Chicago International Film festival this week. I can’t begin to put into words the emotion that this evoked. This raw documentary film follows the life of 5 different families as they traverse through the muddy waters of bullying. They were all from different states and had a different story to tell. The one thing that bound them all together was the challenge of dealing with a system that has yet to master the art of dealing with a bully.  Some of the common things themes that ran through each story were a very unhappy child, a school district who refused to acknowledge the existence of bullying, and the mountain that must be crossed to help a child feel successful with life when his/her daily life is constantly telling them otherwise.

Each bullying story I hear or see has its own nuances. However, so many of the feelings and emotions are exactly the same. The parents feeling the hopelessness of fighting a system that refuses to listen to their concern and pain. Not only that, but they listen as administration make excuses about why it isn’t something they can’t stop or won’t even try to stop, or worse, defend the bully or belittle the target even further. The students endure hell day after day with no one to step in on their behalf.  In some cases, it is even the teachers who are bullies in addition to the students.

I keep thinking of a quote from one of the Harry Potter movies.
When they find out that Voldemort is back, Dumbledore tells the
students, “The time has come to choose between what is right and what is easy.”  I feel like we have reached that same precipice with bullying.  It is time to choose to do what is right.  We, as a society, have taken the easy way for far too long. We need to band together and call for our schools to do what is right. We must encourage other parents to support the schools and give them the power to do what they need to do to put a stop to bullying.

In the coming days, I hope to do a write-up of each one of the stories that were told in this movie.  I have too many individual thoughts on each story to put them into one post.  The Bully Project is a very real look at bullying and how ineffectively bullying is dealt with by some school.  Of course, schools do exist that deal with it well, but until all schools handle bullying with the seriousness it deserves, the fight for no bullying must continue.  I hope that everyone who reads this will go out and see the movie.  I hope that once you do, it will move you to make a difference for the millions of kids who daily endure the hateful words and actions of their peers.  More to come…

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School Leaders Must Acknowledge Bullying

As I read about bullying and incidents of bullying, I am continually amazed at how many times the administrators of a school will say they weren’t aware of the problem.  I find this “it can’t happy here” attitude difficult to believe.  I think administrators like to sweep it under the rug and call it by different names in an effort to not deal with it.  Not because they don’t think it is important, but because of the complexity about what do to leaves them with more questions than answers.

 For example, I know that when we have dealt with issues, we have been told that it is just “boys being boys.”  Principals have also said that it is just a boy being a jerk, or a wise guy.  Even so, when did that become acceptable?  By not doing anything and dismissing it, administrators are giving the green light for that to continue and for other kids to behave that way if they so choose.

 So why do those in charge do this?  I don’t know that I really have a straight forward answer to that question.  I do, however, have a couple of theories.  First, I think it can be that the parents intimidate or even bully the school and those in authority do not want to deal with those parents.  In a society when people sue so quickly, schools worry about dealing with a law suit and will avoid it at all costs.  Even at the cost of the emotional state of a child.

 It might also be that the principal doesn’t feel that it is a high priority because of the way he or she is viewing it.  This is unacceptable.  When an administrator does rename what is going on in an effort to minimize it, it leaves the child and parents of that child feeling helpless.  These are just excuses for those in charge to not deal with the issue at hand.

 When a child is feeling belittled or attacked personally, the school has an obligation to step in.  If it is a repeated incident, it is absolutely bullying and needs to stop.  I do like to give the benefit of the doubt.  It is possible that the child doing the bullying may not even realize his/her actions are hurting someone.  If this is truly the case, a short conversation with the child will put an end to the hurt feelings.  Any child who has been taught respect and compassion will stop when asked, particularly by an authority figure.  However, more than likely there is some reason the child feels the need to put others down.  Countless schools want to work with the child being bullied to help them through the tough situation.  While this is all well and good, their primary focus needs to be the bully.  Our schools must be required to set a plan in place to help the child doing the bullying learn to act in a socially acceptable manner.

 We must let the school know it is unacceptable to continue down a road of apathy.  We must fight for all children’s rights.  Our children have a right to a public education without ridicule.  The current state of our education in our country is dependent on it.  When we look at education reform, I believe that we are putting emphasis on some of the wrong things.  One overlooked item being a safe environment.  So many children have no safety in their lives, either at home or school.  As part of our education reform, we need to give our school environment an overhaul as well.  Our schools must have the authority, but more importantly the courage, to deal with bullying.

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