Yesterday I saw the movie Bully with the Director of Youth Ministries at my church and with one of the volunteer adult advisors for the youth group. There has been some controversy over its rating due to some of the language in it as well as some disturbing acts of violence depicted, not to mention subject matter. Yes, there is graphic language. Yes, there are scenes of what I would call violent acts of bullying (hitting, choking, mocking). And, yes, some parents tell the real stories of how their children committed suicide as a result of being completely overwhelmed by bullying. And, I agree with the higher ratings (PG-13, but certainly not R). Here’s why:
I think this movie should be seen by every parent of a teenager in Jr. High and High School. Bullying is real and it seems to be getting bigger and school administrations are having a harder time responding to it in helpful and constructive ways. Parents must get involved, whether your child is being bullied, doing the bullying, or witnessing it. Our children’s lives are at stake. This may sound alarmist, but until you have seen the movie and seen what happens on these buses and in the hallways at schools when the teachers and administrators are not looking I don’t think those who advocate for “first amendment rights” know what they are talking about.
I was flabbergasted how children and teenagers who had been victimized were blamed for their behavior, while those who intimidated, threatened, and even caused harm walked away without so much as a warning. I’ve read how some claim that the situations depicted in the movie were in mostly rural areas. I’m here to tell you that I know first hand that it is happening in inner city, suburban, as well as rural schools.
I’ve served in a variety of settings, and the issue of bullying is evident in all of them. Some will say, “Kids will be kids.” But when a child is hurt physically or emotionally, in person or via the internet, and it causes that child’s self esteem to drop so low that they only way out they can come up with is ending their life, this is about terrorism—instilling terror in others for purposes of intimidation and control. It is a national issue, and dare I say a national security issue—the ability for us living here to feel secure in our person, homes, and neighborhoods.
If you have not seen the movie, please go see it with your student. I appreciate the PG-13 rating because I think it should cause parents to have to go see it with their children (I admit, it may be too much for younger children to see and experience, and I’m not sure they will be able to process it well enough). Talk to your kids about it. Don’t be surprised if your kid is participating in the bullying, either as a first-hand bullier or as a bystander who doesn’t step in to try to stop it or let an adult know what is happening. Not saying anything is participating in it.
This is not a Christian issue or even a religious issue, though every major religion in the world teaches mutual respect for others and non-violent responses to violence. It is a societal issue that we must continue to raise and keep in the forefront of our collective and individual consciousness. And I admit, we may not be able to “end” bullying, but we can respond to it better and protect those who are victims and care better for those who are doing it or tacitly allowing it by not speaking up. May there be no more children in this country who take their own lives as a result of bullying or being “different.”