I was fortunate recently to have seen the movie “Bully”. My first reaction was to be excited at the opportunity but that sounds funny, doesn’t it? How do you get excited to see such a tough movie. But I am glad I did. The screening was set up especially for educators and psychologists and the discussion that followed was even better than the movie. I think this topic may finally get the attention it deserves.
The movie follows five families through their journey’s dealing with the bullying of their children. Two of the families lost their children to suicide. Tyler was only 11 years old when he took his life. One of the main children followed had clear cognitive impairments, one girl came out of the closet as a lesbian in a small Oklahoma town, and one was just a little small for his age. Each of the children were unique in a way, each the target of pervasive ignorance and cruelty.
This was a tough movie on many levels for me. The obvious tough part was watching kids being treated they way they were. You know that this stuff goes on, but when it is depicted so clearly on the big screen, it is hard to swallow. Despite the fact that this was mostly set in middle America, the themes of intolerance for differences and disrespect for humanity are common to all school settings. Children are being tortured on a daily basis. Film makers had unprecedented access to the lunch room, the hallways, and even the bs, where the worst offenses seemed to occur. We watched as children’s heads were slammed into seats, and children were verbally threatened to be hurt.
Another difficult aspect was how adults responded (or did not respond) to acts of bullying. Parents came again and again to school officials with little change. Students themselves spoke out about what was happening, only to be harassed and mistreated again. A good deal of frustration was depicted in this film.
The controversy around the documentary was that the film industry wanted to give it an R rating. The film’s producers took a bold step and reported that they would release it unrated. My fear was that this would deter families from seeing this movie with their older children. One student interviewed about the rating reported, “You think the movie is tough, try going to school.” The movie did eventually get a PG-13 rating.
I was happy to see that a recent article on this site addressed how to protect the student with special needs from bullying by incorporating certain accommodations and modifications into the IEP. There needs to be accountability for assisting our most vulnerable students. And certainly, appropriate consequences for the bullies is necessary. What we also need to do is to empower the bystander as well. We need to engage the part of the school population that is watching this happen on a daily basis.
Luckily, there are great resources to help parents and schools address this issue. Rosalind Wiseman (http://rosalindwiseman.com/) has a great website to assist with a host of child related issues. Dan Olweus is a world reknown researcher on the topic and also has great resources on his website http://www.violencepreventionworks.org/public/index.page.
What we need is a better educated parent population on the topic so we can continue to be vigilant for the sake of our children. Please take your middle and high school children to see this movie and please at least watch it if your children are smaller.
Tanya Gesek, Ph.D. has a full time private practice working children and their families. Whereas her main specialty is in anxiety, she uses cognitive behavioral therapy and parenting approaches to help children with a range of concerns. In the past, Dr. Gesek has worked as a psychologist in a variety of other settings, including a middle school, a county mental health agency, alternative school placements, and residential treatment for children. You can visit her website at http://drtanyagesek.com/