The Bully Project: My Review and Response

bullypicEven though I had few moments to spare on Saturday as I prepared for a trip for which I left yesterday, I headed to the Lagoon Theatre in Uptown for the afternoon showing of The Bully Project. I have wanted to see this movie since reading about it and because of the recent writing gig on resilience and bullying that I did for ParentFurther, the parenting resource of Search Institute. With their upcoming webinar about bullying on May 16 only days away now, I wanted to be sure that I had seen the movie before attending the webinar.

The movie met all of my expectations based on what I had read prior to attending. The documentary follows the lives (and suicides in two cases) of five teens who have endured extreme bullying situations. Although there are no real answers given in the movie, the director did an excellent job of creating one story cohesive story of what occurs in schools around the United States with the five stories shared. As my son said following the movie, the intention is to evoke emotions and heighten awareness about the issue.

And that it does. I cried through most of the movie – not sobs, but just a steady stream of sad tears. At times, I was angry. I wanted to stand up and scream at the adults involved.

There was the assistant principal who said to the mother of a boy who was strangled, stabbed with pencils, punched, sat on, and called names while riding the bus, “I have ridden that bus. The children are good as gold.” Seriously? What adult can be that naïve? Of course they are going to be good when the principal is on the bus! Maybe she should ride the bus every day…Read more about Alex’s story by clicking here.

Although all of the stories were very moving, this boy’s story hit my daughter and me pretty hard. As he mom showed pictures of his premature birth and described him as a miracle, I thought of the many children in my life now who have similar stories. And it breaks my heart to think that kids may be treating those I know with the same disdain and cruelty that kids in this boy’s school treated him. That possibility multiplied my anger.

Side note: My daughter wants to be an occupational therapist and work with special needs kids; she has a heart for them in ways that few people do. Both of my kids seem to advocate for those with challenges and come alongside them rather than ostracize them. I did not do anything magical to make this happen except to expect that they treat everyone with kindness and respect. Why is that so hard for other kids to do?

Then there was the school board and school administration who did not attend the town meeting called by the parents of a teenager who had hung himself in desperation after being tormented. I am a school administrator, and I am shocked that anyone in a position of authority would not attend a town meeting called to address a school issue. Someone should have been there at least to listen. Shame on them all.  Read more about Tyler’s story by clicking here.

I honestly cannot even fathom the way that almost an entire town in Oklahoma treated Kelby, a girl who came out as a lesbian. She shared about a time when a teacher did role call and said, ”Boys. Girls. Kelby.” Seriously? I caught a sob before it escaped loudly from me when she shared about the day that she sat down in the classroom – a full class without extra seats – and everyone around her got up and moved. The heartbreak on her face and the faces of her family was so evident every time they spoke.  Read more about Kelby’s story by clicking here.

And perhaps the most concerning was the law official involved when the fourteen year old girl took a gun on the school bus “just to scare” those who had been picking on her – to make it stop. While I agree with him that something must be done in this situation, twenty-some counts of kidnapping and aggravated assault with a weapon (100 years in prison) does not seem appropriate. Thankfully a judge or prosecuting attorney saw the light and had the girl get psychiatric help rather than a lifetime in prison.  Read more about Ja’Meya’s story by clicking here.

Seeing the movie reinforced in my mind that something needs to be done, and building assets and resiliency in children and teens – let’s be honest…and in adults! – is something that we all need to start doing. This is not just a parenting issue. This is not justa school issue. This is an issue that pervades every area where we find children and teens, and we all need to get on board and step up. Our country needs asset-rich young people who become contributing citizens.

While anti-bullying programs have good intentions, I assert that they do not get to the heart of the issue which is that everyone has worth and that we all need to be kind to each other regardless of our differences. Check out the Search Institute’s program called Building Assets Reducing Risks which addresses the issues which underlie the bullying problem and addresses it on a system-wide, proactive level rather than a reactive, single student or single incident level.

What can we do?
  • Model appropriate interactions and conflict resolution.
  • Attend the ParentFurther webinarabout building assets and raising resilient children.
  • See The Bully Project movie.  Warning: there are several F-bombs at the beginning, but after that the content is difficult but tame (no sexual issues).
  • Visit the website shared at the end of The Bully Project.
  • Have eyes on our own kids and on the kids of others.
  • Consider these thoughts by Dr Robyn Silverman.

Have you seen the movie?  What did you think?

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