This post is part of an ongoing series, “Will You Be My Advocate?,” by guest blogger, Lyn Pollard about neighborhood moms striving to become better advocates for their children with learning differences or special needs.
I’ve never been so excited to see a movie with a 13-year-old. As a mom of two, normally I’m thrilled to sneak away to a movie on a Saturday night without my pre-tween kids, sitting with good girlfriends, maybe a small pack of tissues and a giant Diet Coke.
But, as I sat down to watch the documentary “Bully” by filmmaker Lee Hirsch, I felt practically honored to be watching the film sitting next to a couple from my neighborhood and their teenage son.
Unlike “The Hunger Games” (where I have to admit that I feel somewhat embarrassed to be seen viewing the teen-focused film, almost 40, and as pleased as punch) this was different. After efforts by teen advocates, parents, and organizations like Change.org, the National Center for Learning Disabilities (LD.Org), and Project Eye-to-Eye to have the film’s original rating changed from an R to a PG-13 and to get the word out about the film’s release, it felt wrong, somehow not to view the film with a member of its intended audience – a teenager.
And, as it turned out, the teen I saw it with had also once been the victim of bullying.
Matt (not his real name) is a member of the countless “Silent” so poignantly represented in the film in more ways than one. A child who interacts and socializes in a way that sometimes looks different from his peers, according to Matt’s mom, he is often quiet, left standing on the sidelines and trying to fit in.
So what did Matt, a kid with freckles and a wispy hint of an incoming mustache think of the film? “You see it all of the time,” he said, describing how kids in his middle school get away with bullying, foul language and more, like smoking on the school’s back steps where administrators can, and do, easily see them, despite there being a local police officer stationed on campus daily.
Matt also shared from a teen’s expert point-of-view that the film was accurate, and that he was not surprised by how the administrators had done little to stop the bullying once made aware of it on their campuses.
Along with other theater patrons, several of whom loudly commented throughout the film saying things like, “That’s exactly how it is,” and “They’re not going to do anything!” in response to scenes where the parents were told by school administrators that bullying was not a problem or that they would take care of the bullying when they had not done so in the past, Matt’s parents told me that they had little faith that the problem would end anytime soon.
One message that “Bully” effectively drives home is that change can start with just one person – by standing up for a victim, confronting a bully and taking a stand. The other message that seems to be echoing is that more must be done both within and without schools to put an end to bullying.
The question is, how can concerned parents, advocates and victims most effectively take the next step? Since 49 states now have anti-bullying laws in effect, there seem to be two answers: education and action.
We all need to learn more about what our state laws say about bullying and hold our schools accountable for meeting the standards. A great way to learn about your state’s anti-bullying law (Montana is the only state without one) is by going to the government’s recently re-launched anti-bullying website, StopBullying.gov. Head to the Policies & Laws page where you can click on an interactive map that provides information about your state’s bullying law, and an explanation of what it does and does not say.
Does your state’s law include cyber bullying, for example? Does it have a model in place that local school districts can use to create anti-bullying policy?
Also, since there are currently no Federal laws in place specifically regarding bullying, parents and advocates can support legislation like The Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) recently endorsed by President Obama, which establishes a federal definition of bullying to protect all students nationwide and requires that states catalog and report data on bullying and harassment to the U.S. Department of Education (via LD.org).
As it turns out, Matt didn’t have a ton to say after seeing “Bully.” But, it says a lot that his parents spent the time and the money to make sure he saw it.
I hope that many more parents in our community and across the country will invest in taking their teen (and yes, you’ll need your tissues) to see “Bully.” I’m not promising it will immediately spark an in-depth conversation with your adolescent. But, when it comes to bullying, I am promising that both you and your teen will leave the theater unable to stand on the sidelines any longer.
Want to learn more about how to protect your kids from bullying? The Dallas Academy is hosting “A Parent’s Guide to Bullying,” at 7 p.m. May 9 (check-in at 6:30). This free event will feature Dr. Jen Rawley, Psy.D., LPA. Parents and educators are welcome and encouraged to attend. Childcare will be provided and CEU credits will be available to educators. To RSVP, email the Dallas Academy or call 214.324.1481.
I have been working for several months with the Dallas Academy and the Child Mind Institute in New York to plan this Dallas event as part of the Speak Up for Kids campaign during National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week which will take place May 6-10 this year. Speak Up for Kids brings free, educational programming about children’s emotional health to communities across the country.