Last night I had a chance to preview the film BULLY which opens in theaters today. I would describe it as a must-see film that should NEVER stand alone. In fact, its standing alone scares me.
It is a must-see film because it makes agonizingly real the world of the child who is targeted. It demonstrates the potential consequences of this kind of abuse in ways almost nothing else does.
It should never stand alone, however, because it is almost too real in its leaving the viewer with very little hope and few actual strategies for change (whether the viewer is a student, a parent or an educator).
It begs, I think, for a number of things:
A. Faculty meetings and continuing education for administrators and teachers and all school employees are essential in order to use BULLY productively. The problem is that it mostly shows educators’ awkward, probably-well-intentioned attempts at responding to bullying that, in the end, revictimize children and serve to perpetuate the problem. It doesn’t provide the kind of role models for successful intervention that educators desperately need.
B. Parent/community workshops are vital as well. Again, it shows parents experiencing heartbreak and trying their level best, but mostly not giving their bullied children what they need … or not in time. It can succeed at waking parents up … the ones who need that. But with it mostly doesn’t offer modeling of how to communicate to your child that you don’t blame them or to help your child make friends or stand up for themselves. And it offers just a glimpse into asserting yourself at school, but far too few tools for actually succeeding at getting what you need.
C. Family conversations absolutely have to follow your family’s viewing the film. What parts of the film resonate for your children? Have they ever done something they aren’t proud of doing to another kid? How could they make that situation right now? Have they witnessed stuff and felt powerless to do anything? Have they ever tried to help? How? What might they try? Have they been on the receiving end? How have they tried to survive so far? What else might they try … without feeling like they are the one who has to solve it? Have they tried talking with you about it before and do they want to give you feedback about what they most need from you? What can you offer to do for or with them?
D. School-wide conversations in the moment will be essential in order to avoid the film generating increases in bullying and copy-cat suicides and on-going anti-bullying projects will be the ONLY way for the film to have any real impact.
Find lots of excellent tools on-line to accompany the film:
1. Find out where it is playing and enter the site itself here
2. Find handouts with concrete ideas for parents, students, educators and advocates here
3. Download a comprehensive viewing guide here