By: Dr. Robyn Silverman
When watching Bully, the issues these young people must deal with each day come flying in our faces all at once. We are left feeling overwhelmed but unsure how to tackle such a large-scale problem. Bullying…what to do? Breaking down the concerns one by one becomes a necessary part of addressing them.
(1) Adults can’t stop what they don’t see: On the bus, in the hallways, or just outside the school doors lies opportunity after opportunity for children to bully and to be victimized. Why? Because they are left on their own to police themselves. Some may argue that children must be able to, on the one hand, behave with character and on the other hand, defend themselves if that is not the case even when adults are not present. However, this simply isn’t happening for some students. To simply talk about what is supposed to happen as a solution to a problem that is happening is idiotic. Adults must be present in areas where children convene in and around the schools.
(2) Adults can’t fix what they don’t know how to fix: Clearly solutions are complex and can’t be generalized from one student to the next. Eliminating or reducing bullying is not a one size fits all exercise. Still, we can hear the frustration of the administrator at the Sioux City, Iowa where Alex Libby attends. She whispers to herself in the hallway; “How do I fix this? How do I fix this?” as loudly as her non-committal promise to Alex’s exasperated parents; “We will take care of this.” How can she take care of what she doesn’t know how to fix? Continued education on the part of educators and administrators is necessary in areas where they quite obviously are deficient in knowledge and skill.
(3) Rules can’t just be articulated without enforcement: I was brought in as an expert on Fox News when the stringent, controversial bullying laws were put into effect in NJ on September 1, 2011. During the segment, a veteran teacher expressed that teachers already announce the rules of conduct in the beginning of the year as if to say, “that should be enough.” Perhaps in a perfect world it would be enough. However, this is not reality. Asserting the rules isn’t the same as enforcing the rules. Consequences must be immediate and commensurate with the offense. That’s the only way children take what adults say seriously. Otherwise, it’s just bureaucratic chatter.
(4) Stating what is doesn’t make it right: We heard iterations of this throughout the documentary.
- “Buses are notoriously bad places for lots of kids.”
- “Kids will be kids, boys will be boys…they’re just cruel at that age.”
- “Every school has some problems with bullying.”
Yeah, and? Stating the obvious doesn’t give us permission to turn a blind eye and throw up our hands. It may be complicated. It may be happening all over. It may be challenging to address. But children have a legal rite to learn in an environment in which they feel safe. If we know the issues, it’s time to address them rather than ignore them.
(5) Effectiveness can’t be assumed: When Alex was asked if he trusts the school officials to take care of the problems, he very clearly says that he had reported that a child “had sat on my head” and nothing was done. The school official balks at his accusation and tells him that she did indeed talk to the boy and “he didn’t do that again, did he?” Of course the boy terrorized Alex in different ways. You definitely got the feeling that school officials wanted so badly to hear that things were fine that they didn’t investigate whether or not they were indeed resolved. Ignorance might be bliss but it’s not effective in counteracting bullying. The school official never followed up with Alex to see how effective her discussion was or to ensure Alex that his words did not fall on deaf ears.
(6) Teachers can be part of the problem: I talk about this in my own body image book, Good Girls Don’t Get Fat. We are very fortunate to have many capable, caring teachers in the lives of our children. However, that doesn’t mean they are all competent and kind. Sometimes there is an issue with lack of skill to cope with the bullying problem while other times the problem is completely denied. As the school official from Alex’s school tells his mother who is desperate to keep her son safe on the bus where his tormentors hurt his everyday; “I’ve been on that bus. They are just as good as gold!” Other times the teachers perpetrate similar aggression that is typically pegged to the kids themselves. We learn about the problem from Kelby Johnson, a 16-year-old who came out as gay while living in the heart of “Bible Belt Oklahoma.” She reports that; “One teacher was calling roll…and she was like, ‘Boys,’ and then said ‘Girls,’ and then she stopped and said ‘Kelby.’ There were a lot of snide remarks from teachers. None of them had my back. They joined in with the kids, a really unsupportive school system.”
(7) Adults who are trying to help can inadvertently make things worse: Many young people don’t feel that they have at least 3 adults in their lives who they can turn to in a time of need or challenge. They often feel that adults make things worse for them by trying to quickly Band-Aid the problem or by giving them unproductive advice. You can’t help but wonder how Alex will fare on the bus after several of his fellow riders are questioned and warned about their behavior towards him. Given past ineffectual warnings to his bullies, will going “half in” really help Alex in the long run? You can’t help but cringe when Alex’s father tells him that he has to fight back and not to be a doormat. As Alex so desperately wants to fit in and believe that his bullies are just “messing around,” how can such advice help? It may very well be the action his father would have taken. It is obvious that it is the advice his father would like his son to employ. But these points are mute because it’s Alex not his father who must get on that bus. It’s vital that we ask ourselves what the answer is for this child—an answer that will keep him or her safe while being practical and successful.
At the end of the day it comes down to accountability. It’s apparent that some school officials want to pass the buck to parents while many parents are looking to the schools, their towns or cities, and other parents to help solve the problem. The truth is that community movement doesn’t happen without the cooperation of all its members. And cooperation means that everyone admits there is a problem and then takes on a little accountability to ensure that a safe and fair learning environment is an expected, respected and enforced right for every child.
Bully: The Seven Problems Revealed Through This Groundbreaking Documentary is a post from: Dr. Robyn Silverman – Child Development Specialist, Body Image Expert, Success Coach & the Creator of the Powerful Words Character Development System