Bully , a documentary by Lee Hirsch that shares the stories of five youngsters and their families over the course of the 2009-2010 school year, opened nationally this past weekend. The movie is emotional and hard-hitting, and therefore appropriately received a PG-13.
It tells the stories of Alex, Kelby, Tyler, Ja’Meya and Ty. Viewers meet three of these kids on screen – the other two committed suicide and we get to know them only through the heart-wrenching details shared by their families and friends.
I was apprehensive about seeing this movie. I know all too well the different ways in which children and teens are bullied, how often there is no protective shield to adequately safeguard them, and how sometimes the attacks become so frequent or severe that death looks more desirable to kids than trying to survive one more day of a merciless onslaught.
I knew it wouldn’t be easy to sit through this movie and I was right. My eyes teared up when I heard one parent say, “I still think he’s going to come through the door, but I know he’s not.” And I felt angry both at the adults who didn’t help stop the bullying and those who contributed to the problem, for example:
- The irresponsible principal who tried to force a bullied boy and his attacker to shake hands after a fight, afterwards telling the victim that his attacker “was trying to say sorry” and that “by not shaking his hand you are just like him.”
- The exasperated father who says to his bullied son, “no one respects a punching bag.”
It’s incredulous to me why, as the New York Times’ A.O. Scott points out, “adults often fail to protect their vulnerable charges.” But perhaps it should not be so surprising if you look at how some adults regularly behave: Ugly insults, reputational attacks, defamation, veiled death threats.
During one scene in the move, a police officer said that schools alone can’t reinforce appropriate behavior without parental support. He is right – it takes everyone to change a hostile environment into one where individuals feel safe and are offered help if they run into problems.
So please make a decision to be a positive role model for children and teenagers. Show them how things should be done so they know there is light at the end of the tunnel.
What we need is for adults to be positive role models for children and teenagers – to have control over their own emotions and behavior, to know how to manage and express their anger in healthy ways, to learn effective conflict resolution skills.*
* These are some of the skills we teach at CiviliNation.