This may be the post I am the most proud of. I hope it comes across the way I intend. I hope it inspires someone.
Today for Family Home Evening I decided to see the controversial documentary Bully. This has been something I’ve been a bit anxious for but knew I needed to do because of my own experience being bullied. The odd part about the movie is I wasn’t that emotional while watching but then as soon as I got in my car I started to bawl. I felt all emotions of anger, frustration, despair and a little bit of hope.
Some have criticized the movie because it doesn’t go into the mindset of the bullies themselves. My response is that every story cannot tell every story. This is a movie about the victims and how futile the school system is in helping deal with these problems. Granted their task is daunting but the attitude of ‘kids will be kids’ is far too present.
There is one scene in the movie where a principal actually forces a little boy to shake hands with his tormentor (a valid concept until you find out this has happened again and again with the bully feigning an apology each time).
The victim has the courage to not shake hands and the teacher says
“You’re just like him”.
The boy says “Except I don’t hurt people”.
Can you imagine if we expected such things of adults? Do we expect rape victims to shake hands with their accusers and if they don’t are they ‘just like him.”? It made me so mad I wanted to throw something at the screen. I actually said ‘unbelievable’ out loud and then 2 girls in the theater looked at me.
One of my favorite moments was the Mom of a boy named Alex meeting with a principal that despite proof of abuse on a bus claimed ‘I’ve ridden that bus and they are good as gold’. The Mother says ‘When I was a child that bus would have been pulled over until the bad behavior stopped’. That’s what we have lost. Now I’m not advocating physical discipline for children but to pretend like adults have to sway over the behavior of children is just wrong.
Children should be safe and protected at home and school- in fact sometimes they need to be safer at school than in some homes. I know in my case little was done to stop bullying that lasted for nearly 2 years despite repeated requests from my parents.
It is a complicated problem but a couple things I suggest:
1. CHANGE SCHOOLS- My parents changing schools literally changed my life. I was fortunate enough to be able to go to private school and then my family moved but there are always other options. There are charter schools, online schools, homeschool, tutors, whatever. Anything is better than someone being a in situation where they are tormented. Its like sending an abused women into a closed building with their abuser 8 hours a day. Be open-minded, pray for direction and you will find something else that works.
2. Teach your children about differences and expose them to a variety of people. Talk to them about bullying and what they can do if they see someone who is being treated unkindly or most importantly being ignored. Teach them to look for people that seem a little different and try to befriend them. When they don’t like someone try to discuss what it is and how if possible they can learn to love that person. I’m not saying they have to be friends with everyone, that isn’t realistic but each kid that tries is one less bully.
One of the Mom’s who lost her son to a bullying related suicide said ‘He cried and then it got to the point where he didn’t cry and then it became difficult to know what’s going on’. Watch for those early tears…
3. Find something your child is good at and nourish that skill. Everyone is good at something (or at least enjoys something) and usually you can find someone else who shares that interest.
4. Make sure your children have one person in their life who is an uncompromising cheerleader. Parents have to discipline their children and say things they may not like but I was immeasurably benefited by several people who loved me unfailingly including my Grandpa Richards and my young women’s leader Sister Potter. They never gave me ‘constructive criticism’. I was always beautiful and perfect. Everyone needs that kind of cheerleader. Whether its a boys or girls club or a mentor look for that for your children.
5. Speak out about your history being bullied. Each of us that speaks adds another voice to the world, one more voice that says ‘It gets better’. ‘It will be OK’. ‘Don’t give up’. ‘God loves you’.
6. This is just my opinion but I think rough housing and mean joking should be avoided. A lot of the bullying in the movie starts out as rough housing and honestly may be viewed by the bullies as just fun but it turns so fast. One of the kids in the movie has a sister that teases him a little bit. At one point she says ‘LOSER spells Alex’. Things like this are not helpful and should be disciplined when possible. Again, I’m not a Mom so its just my opinion as an observer.
Here’s my voice:
(Just to be clear when I talk about my accomplishments its not to brag but just to say ‘you can do whatever you want in your life’)