Friday, January 3, 2014

Bully - The Documentary

Taking a break from holiday baking a few days before Christmas, I found my daughter watching a movie, so I decided to join her. She said she was watching a documentary called Bully. This film followed kids in a particular school district during the 2009/2010 school year. What I saw made me sick to my stomach. As you know from reading my blog early on, I've had several incidents of bullying with both of my children. What shocked me was how absolutely clueless the parents and school administrators were. I shouldn't be surprised, since it was exactly what I experience when I was dealing with my own kids' bullying issues.  

First, parents (myself included) have often experienced bullying as children and don't realize that bullying today has moved to a whole new level of cruelty. When I was a kid, getting off the bus in the afternoon meant I was safe until the next day. That is no longer the case. With social media and cell phones, kids can get bullied 24/7. Bullies can organize on Facebook and make groups or pages dedicated to destroying others. Kids can now be bullied by kids they don't even know or go to school with.

When I was a kid, bullying was part of growing up. Parents even believed that it could build character by forcing kids to stick up for themselves. For me, that was actually true to some extent. I had to fight when I was a kid, for myself and my little brother, and that fighting spirit has definitely helped me as an adult. But it was me against one person. Bullies didn't usually form big groups to gang up on one person. Generally, there were one or two jackasses in school and everyone knew who they were and tried to stay away from them. Now it's like going to school in a shark tank: kill or be killed.

In the documentary, I didn't think the kids would not act like idiots with a camera rolling. I was wrong. This documentary is raw and shows exactly what kids are having to deal with, including parents who aren't aware of the severity of the situation. Bully includes following the families of several kids who committed suicide as a result of bullying. I rarely cry, but watching those parents try to deal with what happened to their children, and their fight to try to get someone to listen had me sitting next to a box of tissue. One boy was only 11 years old. Tragedy doesn't even begin to cover it.

The school administrators are either insanely stupid, or they're trying to cover their asses by denying the extent to which bullying occurs in schools. I watched in horror as they followed one female vice principal, who tried to make a bully and his victim shake hands. When the victim refused, the vice principal sent the bully to class and proceeded to lecture the victim on how disappointed she was that he wouldn't kiss and make up. The victim detailed the abuse he has been dealing with, and that his parents had even contacted the police, who had warned the bully to stay away, but the abuse continued. The vice principal said she believed the victim and the bully could be great friends. That's a whole new level of stupid.

Due to escalating violence on the school bus against one of the boys in the documentary, the producers showed the parents the footage because the father kept putting pressure on the boy to stand up for himself. Once they saw the level of violence against their son (including being threatened with death, strangled, punched, and stabbed with a pencil), they were shocked. They went to the same vice principal and she completely blew them off and talked about her new grandchild. It made me sick.

I had to fight to make sure my kids were protected; but, eventually, I had to take my son out of public school and home school him. I was told by school administrators that my kids needed to "get along," "ignore the bullies," and was even told that they were being "tattletales." I asked the teachers and administrators, "What if you were being bullied at work, would you ignore it?" That idea is ridiculous. So what message are we sending our kids? 

Until parents and school administrators get their heads out of the sand and admit there is a real problem and take steps to actually make a difference (that doesn't include the gratuitous No Bullying posters) kids will continue to suffer and die.

After the documentary, I asked my daughter (in 10th grade) what she thought about school administrators and parents when it comes to bullying. She said "Mom, no one cares."

They have a website called The Bully Project. Check it out and support them any way you can. Even if you don't have children in school, this is a problem that needs our attention. Here is the Facebook page, Stand for the Silent, that is featured in the documentary.  Show our kids we care.

Here's the trailer for Bully.

Bully is currently on Netflix, or you can rent it on YouTube for $3.99 here.

Addendum: After writing this blog, I realized that I left out an important point. I missed a little bit of the beginning of the documentary, so I'm going to go back and watch the parts I didn't see, but I don't recall them talking to the parents of the bullies. Compassion has to start at home. Parents have to teach their kids not to bully others from an early age and take decisive action if they are told their kids are bullying other children. I tell my kids to treat people the way they want to be treated. Parents have to be involved. Teachers and school administrators cannot control the problem alone. We also have to empower our children to speak up when they see others being bullied, and let them know that the adults will protect them and back them up if they speak out.

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