Alex, 12 Sioux City, IA a scene from BULLY Directed by Sundance and Emmy-award winning filmmaker, Lee Hirsch, BULLY follows five kids and families over the course of a school year. Stories include two families who have lost children to suicide and a mother awaiting the fate of her 14-year-old daughter who has been incarcerated after bringing a gun on her school bus. With an intimate glimpse into homes, classrooms, cafeterias and principals’ offices, the film offers insight into the often cruel world of the lives of bullied children. – UNKNOWN –
“Bully,” the documentary about mean kids in school that opens today at The State Theatre in Modesto, raises dismay about student character and adult effectiveness. But is bullying
really getting worse?
Yes, experts say. It’s easier than ever and earns star treatment on many popular shows it’s cool to be mean.
Statistics about kids directly affected by bullying range from one in 10 to one in four, but few dispute that it happens on every campus, probably every day.
“We have gotten to a place where people are confused about bullying and exhausted,” bullying expert Rosalind Wiseman told a gathering of parents and teachers last week in Southern California. Wiseman is the author of “Queen Bees and Wannabes,” which was the basis for the movie “Mean Girls,” and the Owning Up social justice curriculum.
In part, bullying gets confused with perennial teen drama, Wiseman told attendees Thursday at the California State PTA convention in Anaheim. She sees the difference as a one-way dynamic in bullying, while drama tends to have both parties actively involved.
“What school has always really been about is group dynamics,” Wiseman said. It’s those personal connections that keep kids in school, help them learn and, sometimes, make them miserable. “Conflict is inevitable, as is abuse of power,” she said.
What is changing, however, is how that happens. Smart phones and social media give bullies a host of covert, worldwide weapons. They no longer even have to make eye contact to inflict devastating damage.
But old-school group torments still happen. With budget cutbacks, schools have the fewest adults in memory on campus. Schools are increasingly turning to cameras to keep an eye out.
Add in a social climate where rudeness and rage take center stage. The way to reality megastardom lies in being the most outrageous cast member, Wiseman said. News entertainers earn their stripes treating differing views with unfettered disgust. Adults applauding the shows may not be aware of the message that sends.
Grown-ups often unwittingly bolster the bullies, Wiseman said, offering this example: A teacher walking in a hallway between classes sees a cluster of students and senses trouble. She stops and asks the boy at the center if the others are bothering him.
“In that moment, the target has only one response. ‘I’m fine. We’re just playing,’ ” Wiseman said. Uncertain of what else to do, the teacher walks away.
“Adults become part of the problem. We say tell an adult, but the adult doesn’t do anything,” Wiseman said. Common responses just be nice, be kind, ignore them, be the better person all are ineffective pap, in Wiseman’s view.
“If kids think adults are competent at handling things, they will come forward. So the question becomes: Are we worthy of their trust?” she said.
How could that teacher have better handled that moment?
In Wiseman’s view, job one is to interrupt the event and get the group on task get back to class; don’t block the hallway and end with a promise to follow up individually. Assess the teens as they leave, watching for the power center, the target and the bystanders. Don’t be distracted by disparaging comments.
“They’re going to complain about you; they’re trying to reclaim their power,” she said.
Ask the group who’s responsible. The kid with the most social power will answer, reinforcing his role as kingpin.
March in like the mama bear. It reinforces the premise that the target is helpless.
Tell kids you can’t do anything if you haven’t seen it happen.
Whenever confronting a bullying situation, Wiseman advises doing something utterly counterintuitive: Don’t move. Unless lives are at stake, take a moment and think through how best to show ways to handle a conflict while treating everyone with respect.
“We’re not going to stop bullying. We are going to give them tools to handle difficult things,” Wiseman said.
On the Net:
State Theatre showtime and ticket information: www.thestate.org/calendar/ event/516/view.
Web site for the movie “Bully”: www.thebullyproject.com/ indexflash.html.
Teachers Guide: http://safeschools.facinghistory. org/content/about-facing-history-and-bully.