I wrote a bit about the theatrical release of “Bully” – specifically its PG-13 rating – last year. I didn’t have a chance to see it in theaters, but it’s finally on Netflix, and I didn’t wait more than a day to watch.
I was never violently bullied as a kid. My worst first-hand experiences involved people I thought were my friends spending time & effort to be friendly to me for weeks at a time before pulling the curtain to reveal our relationship was a setup for a big joke.
It happened with girlfriends, and it happened with boys on whom I had crushes.
My worst experience was in eighth grade. We had a big school trip coming up in a few months, and all the girls were separating into who’d room with whom. I had three friends who said, up until the last minute, that we’d be roommates. Suddenly with room signups in our hands, they said I couldn’t room with them.
A long weekend away from home, an extended slumber party, and all the fun I’d anticipated for weeks was shamefully and publicly – among our peers, at least – ripped from my hands. I don’t know who my roommates were for the trip, but I remember being jumbled into a group that needed a fourth. They were girls I knew, but they weren’t my “friends.”
Middle school is the reason I spent most of high school without close friends. I didn’t trust anyone. My weak preteen heart couldn’t handle the rejection, so I was friendly with everyone but friends with no one.
Part of the distance I kept led to me watching other kids be bullied without saying a word. I saw fights, I saw playground-esque kicking, tripping, hitting and general shenanigans that are just rude when the recipient is obviously being ridiculed. I saw kids whose clothes weren’t right be ignored by mostly everyone. I remember many who weren’t even lucky like me to be friendly with most people but instead were friendly with no one. They sat alone, and the only interaction they had with classmates was negative.
I can’t imagine any of that for my own babies. I can’t imagine any of that for any of your babies. My kids are only two, and my toddler-parent brain cannot fathom what it’s like to parent older kids who interact with bullies or, worse, are bullies.
It’s easy to forget what it was like for myself in school. It’s even easier to forget the sadness I witnessed and basically ignored.
“Bully” was released in theaters last spring, and it’s an amazing reminder of what happens to kids. I cried watching the film because the parents of these kids are powerless. No one but kids know the full extent of what goes on. The teachers, the authorities, the bullies’ parents, the parents of the bullied kids, even – none of them can accept full responsibility, so none of them can fix the problem.
It’s everyone’s problem, and it won’t be fixed until everyone addresses it. It doesn’t matter if you weren’t bullied as a kid. It doesn’t matter if your kids aren’t bullied. It doesn’t matter if you don’t see it, or if you don’t believe what kids are saying. It doesn’t matter if the bullies stick out a hand and say, “Sorry,” when they’re forced to apologize.
What does matter? I don’t know. But as I’m working to raise three 2-year-olds into three school-age children, I hope what matters is that we all strive to teach our kids that everyone deserves a friend, that we all deserve to be treated well, that it isn’t right to ignore a person, that we’re all different in so many ways – and that’s how we want to be.
The kids who give up and kill others and/or themselves to revenge or escape their bullied horrors and the kids who drive them to do so – those are the extremes of bullying we all want to avoid. All those who fall in between are the real problem, though, because letting bullying at all be a norm require those extremes to take place.
There are no qualifiers that limit to whom I’d recommend this film. Parents, educators, medical professionals, grandparents, friends, KIDS – everyone should watch this film and work to take bullying out of the equation.