Bully the movie – pros and cons

Last night we (Dave, Cedar and I) saw Bully. In case you haven’t heard of it, here’s a trailer.

What we thought:

I can’t entirely speak for Dave and Cedar, but overall I’d say this is a movie everyone should see in terms of awareness.

Why awareness?

Because people in this country seem to think bullying is a super awesome character building exercise – something I wrote about previously in-depth.

Because bullying statistics are extremely insane. I linked to many statistics in the above linked post, but in case you don’t want to click that link, be aware that…

  • Research shows that bullying may be linked to as many as half of all suicides committed by kids ages 10 through 14.
  • As many as half of all children are bullied at some time during their school years, and at least 10% are bullied on a regular basis.
  • The above may be a low stat though, as The American Justice Department says that each month 1 out of every 4 kids will be bullied.
  • The National Institutes of Health reports that 100,000 students carry a gun to school and other research reports that bullied kids are more likely to retaliate through extremely violent measures. In 12 of 15 school shooting cases in the 1990s, the shooters had a history of being bullied.
  • Students who are cyber-bullied are unwilling to attend school, get poor grades, have low self-esteem, have more health problems and are more likely to use alcohol and drugs.
  • Adults who were bullied in their youth are 3 times more likely to have suicidal thoughts or inclinations.
  • Children who engage in bullying behavior, and who aren’t stopped, are more likely to become adult criminals. (Taub, 2002).

Awareness because most schools do nothing:

Very little is being done to stop bullying in conventional schools. The American Justice Department notes that in schools a child is bullied by another child every 7 minutes. Peers of the bullied child intervene just 11% of the time. Worse, adults who see bullying only intervene 4% of the time.

My friend’s child went through this first-hand this year. After being bullied for a good long while, the school basically told this kid to buck up and deal with it as it happens to everyone. Plus, they flat out lied to her face about bullying, telling her it was a real-world experience, as I noted in my post about it.

What I liked about Bully:

I think Bully was a good movie in that it profiled the problem clearly, although it maybe even understated the issue. I felt like it was good to see some families step up and take bullying into their own hands. I feel like all kids and parents should take the time to see Bully, because I’m guessing adults forget what school was like and how prevalent bullying is and kids may make changes in their own life after seeing this film.

I also REALLY liked that the movie showed just how ridiculously lackadaisical school administrators and even parents are when it comes to bullying. The clear lack of control and interest in bullying by school principals and teachers (along with some parents) was profiled well.

What bothered me about Bully:

We’ve been waiting to see Bully for months – and we were pretty excited that it might suggest some new tactics for dealing with the issue. It didn’t. The movie discussed advocacy but in a way that (I think) may only appeal to people who are already on board with zero-violence.

Overall, I have a sinking feeling that Bully won’t be seen or taken seriously by the people who most need to see it or take it seriously. The prevailing mindset in America is that bullying not only builds character, but that it’s 100% normal rite of passage for kids. The movie did point this out – noting in particular how people tend to jump to the whole, “Kids will be kids” theory, but there was nothing in the movie to suggest how to change this.

Dave pointed out, and I agree, that some perspective from the bullies themselves would have been nice. Getting into the mindset of everyone involved would be useful I think when it comes to prevention. This movie really dug into the bullied, but not the bullies, who I’m guessing have been bullied too or have been encouraged to bully by some adult.

What REALLY bothered me about Bully:

Like Race to Nowhere, which was excellent in spite of my problems with it, Bully portrayed families in the clutches of a major problem. In Race to Nowhere the issue was school stress while in Bully, the issue was of course bullying. In both movies my major problem were the profiled parents. Parents in both movies seemed to know for years that their kids weren’t happy. In some cases (in both films) this unhappiness resulted in youth suicide, something that, also in both films, the parents looked entirely shocked by even after admitting that they knew their kids were upset for years.

This has nothing to do with the filmmakers in this case, but everything to do with having to watch yet another kid go through terrible pain and problems while parents who are aware of the issue stand by and allow it to continue. I feel for these parents, because no one deserves to lose a child, and I can’t even imagine being in that situation, but part of me also wonders why none of these movies point out the insanely obvious – if your kid is miserable why on earth would you leave them where they are – in school – miserable? How this escapes anyone is beyond me.

In my opinion, since schools aren’t doing anything to stop bullying and other problems, an obvious solution would be to remove your child from the situation. Schools should never ever condone bullying. However, since they do support bullying, why leave your child in that situation? I don’t get it and I think movies like this do a major disservice to kids when they fail to point out ways you could snatch your child out of a situation.

For example, I send my son to a private school with a real zero-violence policy, rather than have him enrolled in public school. My friends I mentioned above pulled their child out of school and got her situated in online school, because her school flat out refused to address the bullying. Are these perfect situations? No, of course not. It’s hard to manage home school, private school and even free online school, especially when public schools should be accountable and stop bullying, but these are all better options that leaving your kid in a messed up miserable situation.

Can bullying be stopped?

My son’s school has an actual zero-violence policy. It was weird to watch my 11 year old son Cedar watch Bully, because he didn’t get that this stuff goes on in schools. He attends a private democratic school and they take zero-violence seriously. Adults and kids at Cedar’s school abide by rules that mandate respect for everyone, no matter their age and the few instances of bullying I’ve seen there have resulted in kids changing or eventually being asked to leave the school. Cedar said he’s never seen kids at his school act like kids in Bully, and I spend tons of time there, so I can agree. He did say he’s seen kids bully other kids but to a lesser degree and he noted it’s dealt with quickly.

So yes, I do think you can have a bully-free school, one with a very real zero-violence policy. However, I think it goes deeper than simple advocacy and awareness. You need full-on societal changes regarding schools.

Changes that must happen:

At my son’s school they have more staff per students than public school, meaning the staff know all the kids well and see first-hand what goes on, which is likely a main reason why a zero-violence policy is achievable. Public schools with limited funding don’t have this luxury. Teachers in public schools can’t get to know all the kids and don’t see what happens. When they do, they don’t have the time or support to advocate for kids.

The mindset that “Kids will be kids” is insane, and it’s not only supported by schools but society as well. My son’s school assumes everyone deserves respect and lives by it. There is no “Kids just fight and it’s all good” mindset, because violence is not okay. At my son’s school there’s a peer run justice board and when that doesn’t work staff get involved. If you’re violent at my son’s school, and you continue to be so, you’re asked to leave, which is not a perfect situation, as some kids learn bullying at home, but it does create the proper environment of safety and respect that everyone deserves.

After seeing what goes on in public school that support violence vs. a private school and homeschool groups with actual zero-violence rules, I can see that you need time, money and adult support to make a difference. You can’t change bullying with basic advocacy, because we all know bullying is real. The entire system needs to change. It seems really impossible, but because I’ve actually seen non-violent groups of kids, I know it can happen. A non-violent school environment isn’t a fairy tale – they do exist.  But I doubt they can exist without major budget and staffing changes in the public school system.

Schools aren’t changing so what can you do?

Until schools change it’s seriously up to parents to pull their kids out of these situations.  Forget working with schools who don’t listen. Forget trying to convince everyone else that bullying is wrong. Focus on your child and make his world better right now. You can be the parent who does nothing while your kid’s childhood is messed up to the point of no return or you can be the hero in this situation and pull your kid out of school.

Find a new, better school. Home school. Try online school. Do something to show your kid that you don’t support bullying. You may think, “It’s not that bad” – but is IS that bad for your child. It’s his life and his life should be amazing, not full of daily torment.

Additionally, don’t fall into the whole, “Bullying is normal” train of thought. I’ve heard it over and over – “Pulling your kid out of a bad situation is just sheltering them” or “Removing your bullied child is teaching them to run away.” But know that these are bold faced lies. Making sure a child isn’t tormented is not sheltering them. It’s giving them their rights as a human being. Telling your child, “No, it’s not okay to be bullied” is not teaching them to run away, it’s telling your child that he deserves respect and if a school won’t give him that respect, you will.

Consider this: In real adult lives bullying is actually not okay. If you’re an adult and you hit or harass another adult endlessly, you may end up in jail. If you torment co-workers you’ll be fired. On top of this, in the United States, most bullying in schools is considered a civil rights issue that technically must be addressed if the school knows about the abuse and receives federal funding. Obviously we need better laws to enforce this, but technically bullying is against the law. If adults are punished for violence, what makes it okay for kids to be violent?

 For some tips, see the links below:

Is Bully worth seeing?

Yes. In my opinion Bully is worth seeing. It does play to the awareness slant well, in spite of not offering enough solutions. However, you can’t expect one movie to provide all the answers. Society and parents need to change too.

Cedar, my 11 year old did recommend that kids 12 and older may like it better (he felt it was long), but he said he would recommend it to his pals. However, don’t just see the movie. Make sure you discuss bullying with your kids and if your child needs support, provide it, don’t just hope the problem will get better on its own.

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