It isn’t that surprising that my first substantive blog post would be about an issue near to my heart and to much of my professional work with youth over the last 15+ years – bullying.
Yesterday I took myself to see the movie “Bully”. Don’t worry, I will take my 14 year old son to see it too. I just knew I had to see it first to prepare myself. I had read all the press and controversy about the movie before it was released. Critics wanted it be given an R rating because of the language. I signed the petition urging that the movie be accessible to young people – even without their parents or adults present – because it is such an important topic today. Now, having seen the movie, I agree even more that every parent, every teen and tween, every adult who works with children – teachers, school administrators, clergy, youth workers, bus drivers, pediatricians, school nurses & guidance counselors, etc – should see this movie!
One of my friends, prior to the movie, told me I should “be prepared to be outraged.” She couldn’t have pegged my emotions more succinctly. I was outraged. Outraged at the way some of the adults in positions of authority and leadership responded to incidences of bullying in their presence. Outraged that because of the prevalence of bullying in our culture our youth become numb to the pain. They have developed a dysfunctional understanding of what a friend is. Said one mom in the movie, “A friend is someone who is supposed to make you feel good. Not someone who gives you pain.” (Side bar – how much does reality TV contribute to this or is reality TV a symptom of this societal trend?) I was outraged and deeply saddened by the realization that the two boys who had committed suicide were the exact ages of my two sons. That hit me close to home. And I was outraged that there were only 7 people in the movie theater! Where was everyone? We cannot be ostriches and keep our heads in the sand about this one, people!
I have to admit that I can empathize with some of the adults in the movie. In my work as a rabbi, Jewish educator and youth professional… and as a mother with my own son…. I have had that young person come to my office in tears and pain over the bullying they have experienced at school or at the synagogue (Yes, even there!). I too have been at a loss for words as to what to say and do to help. How do we put an end to this? What are the appropriate consequences for the bully – who is often someone experiencing their own pain? How do we help each individual and the community heal from the pain? How do we break this pattern and create safe spaces for our youth to live, learn and grow?
Bullying is not an unknown issue though. There has been research done. We know what works and what doesn’t work in responding to both victims and perpetrators of bullying. Brushing it aside is not the answer, and we cannot continue to do so. We have to do the learning and the hard work in our communities to create the change our youth so desperately need.
I am proud of the parents and youth in “Bully” who stood up, despite their own pain & loss, to have their voices heard in their communities. I trust that those schools and communities have heard the call and taken action to change.
I am proud that in the Jewish community we are taking action to help eradicate bullying from our communities. NFTY, in partnership with BBYO, has taken a stand on this issue and has put together resources for youth and congregations to respond to it. The ADL also has very good resources and trainings available, specifically about cyberbullying.
I am proud that the makers of the film have put together a teacher’s guide for discussing the movie with their students.
I proud of the schools, houses of worship, community centers that are already planning to hosting screenings of “Bully” with follow up conversation about steps to be taken to address bullying in their community. I hope more will do so.
I’m going to take my 14 year old son to see “Bully.” I hope he is as outraged as I was.
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