This week I had a chance to watch the Independent Lens documentary Bully on PBS. It’s getting a lot of attention with parents and educators because it so brilliantly tells the story and experience of three students who are victims of harassment and bullying by their classmates.
READ: if you are a parent, or an educator, or anyone who has a young person in your life, watch this movie. If you are a former victim, or a former bully, watch this movie. If you are a conscious being who gives a shit about what the world will be like in the future, watch this movie. And especially if you think you don’t need to, please PLEASE watch this movie! In summary, everyone needs to watch this movie.
I’m coming at this from two perspectives: first, as a former participant in the bullied/bully cycle, and second, as a parent of a learning impaired child who – just 5 weeks into his kindergarten year – has been harassed and picked on by his classmates.
Growing up, I was bullied by other girls in my neighborhood. It wasn’t particularly violent or cruel, but the experience of being a victim of childhood harassment stuck with me. In role playing games, I was forced to play the role of the ‘family dog’ or told I could only watch, not participate in play. Sometimes I would just watch them from my yard. Occasionally I would just go home. But many times, I was forced into uncomfortable, degrading, and demeaning roles, much to the pleasure of my bully.
As with many bullies, mine had a troubled family life. But that doesn’t excuse or condone or any way make her actions acceptable. And – even then – I knew it was wrong.
Years later, this same girl would force me to turn on my friends. To swear. To degrade. To demean and harass them. And even though I didn’t want to, I did what she said.
It wasn’t until kids started bullying my younger sister – a quiet girl with physically indistinguishable mental retardation – for me to start standing up against bullies. By middle school I was physically fighting boys who threw rocks at her. Or snow balls. Or dirt.
And I never told anyone.
Cal and I at a school ice cream social for kids with special needs
Now, as a parent, I’m responsible for the care of her son, my nephew, who also has learning disabilities. Two weeks into the school year, I had to request that the bus driver keep him in the front row, “to watch him,” placing blame on him for the poor choices of other students on the bus. I have been in yelling matches with other parents when he was getting punched in a bouncy house and everyone just stood by and watched. I have intervened when GIRLS push him in line. I have parented my friend’s kids when they push him, or shove him, or exclude him. I have listened to my neighbors, who would prefer that he not play with their kids.
And while we are fortunate to be in a school district that trains every student, teacher, and administrator on bullying prevention and awareness, I know that bullies will haunt his future. It is heartbreaking. It is cruel. And, at times, it is overwhelming.
But I will never give up. Not for one second.
There is no corner of my being that will silently allow this to continue. It is unacceptable. It is horrible. And it is absolutely PREVENTABLE.
In a country where we have successfully instituted training for children on stranger danger, on the risks of drugs and alcohol, and sex ed, I know that we can also successfully institute systematic awareness and education on the prevention of bullying. If we can teach our children physics and art history, we can teach them not to bully. If we can teach them calculus and Shakespeare, we can teach them not to bully. If we can teach them to throw a fast ball or to paint a portrait, we can teach them equity and inclusion and we can teach them not to bully.
If you want to stop bullying in the workplace. If you want gender equity and fairness. If you support equality and opportunity for all, then you want every child and every parent to be given the tools and strategies necessary to eliminate bullying from our culture. Eliminate it.
Talk to your kids. Talk to your friends. Talk to your colleagues. End bullying.
We can do this.