My 10yo son started getting bullied in the 2nd grade. It began with boys pushing him around and cussing him out on the bus. My son is not shy, but does not like confrontation, and can get quiet when attacked. Despite his size (he’s always been bigger than anyone in his class), he can also be quite sensitive and has a huge heart, looks out for others, and does not cuss or make crude jokes. I think this made him an easy target.
We took him off the bus route and I started driving him to and from school. I would have done anything to help my son feel safer and more secure. But then the bullying started happening at school.
There was one boy in particular who seemed to single out my son. He would yell at, tease, taunt, and cuss my son out, using what seemed like a constant barrage of twisted verbal images and sexual slurs. I did not expect to have to explain such hateful speech to my son while he was still so young.
One day during recess in 2nd grade, this boy punched my son in the face, giving him a black eye. The boy had apparently taken away a little girl’s glasses, and my son stepped in to tell him that wasn’t cool. My son pointed his finger into the boy’s chest when telling him to back off, and both boys were called to the office and treated as equal offenders. My son was confused by that, and worried that maybe he shouldn’t stick up for other kids anymore. That broke my heart.
The bullying continued through third and fourth grade, though it never turned physical again. But the constant degradation hurt my son’s spirit, and we continued to drive him to school and do what we could to buoy his spirits. He had a few friends at school, did very well with grades, and overall we were feeling optimistic. When the same boy who bullied my son lit a paper towel in the 4th grade bathroom and set the garbage on fire, and was consequently removed from school, we were hopeful that the bullying would stop.
But this year, in 5th grade, it has been worse than it ever was. Once again, one boy has singled my son out to taunt and cuss at, but things have become much more sinister. This boy has managed to frighten enough of his classmates so my son’s former friends won’t talk with him now, or sit with him or play with him. They are too afraid that if they are nice to my son, they will be bullied in return (which has, in fact, happened). My son feels alone and ostracized. His schoolwork has suffered, he asks to stay home from school, I know this boy is constantly on my son’s mind, even outside of school hours.
Before Christmas, my son went to a counselor at his school to tell her what was happening. She, the teacher, the principal – they all seemed completely oblivious that anything was happening at all. Which is difficult for me to understand, but I have to take their word for it. My son said it helped a little to talk to the counselor, but that things didn’t change at all. You could see in his posture at school that his shoulders and head were down most of the time, just trying to muddle through each miserable day.
My son does not want to leave school. I am feeling scared for him, hurt, guilty, angry, broken-hearted. I have suggested homeschooling several times, but it always comes back to my son not wanting to quit. I asked him what he thinks the adults at his school could do to stop the bullying there, and he said “Honestly, I don’t know.” But when I asked him what the kids could do to stop bullying in schools, he shared a flood of answers. “Say something, don’t just watch. Stand up. Don’t be friends with the bullies. Don’t be scared of them. Don’t let them win.”
This is one of the main ideas behind the new documentary Bully. A staggering 13 million kids will be bullied in schools across America this year, “making it the most common form of violence against young people in the U.S.” I listened to filmmaker Lee Hirsch in an interview recently saying that bullying is not just a childhood rite of passage or something we can brush under the rug anymore – it has grown into what can be considered a serious human rights issue. But the adults in the schools need to be more educated as to bullying’s true impact, and the kids – the kids MUST be moved to act. They must be moved from bystander to defender if the bullying in schools is to ever stop.
Bully follows five kids and families over the course of a school year, including two families who’ve lost children to suicide and a mother who waits to learn the fate of her 14 –year-old daughter, incarcerated after bringing a gun on her school bus to warn away the kids who had been taunting her.
The documentary is currently playing in select theaters across the country, opening on more screens April 13. The MPAA gave Bully an R rating for language, but filmmakers ultimately decided to release it Unrated as a protest against what they felt was the unwarranted rating from the MPAA. Even Common Sense Media, a review site that breaks films down into a variety of factors as an advocate for families and children, said that the language in Bully is not gratuitous and would recommend the movie – accompanied by guided conversation with an adult – for children 13 and older.
This film and accompanying campaign are very near and dear to me. It speaks directly to what our life has been like for the past four years, and what my son has had to live with every day. I encourage you to learn more about Bully, watch the trailer, get involved however you can, speak out, support the message. As hard as I work to protect and save my son’s heart through this terrible time, there are others boys and girls out there I can’t protect – not alone. It will take all of us being involved to end the pervasive culture of bullying in our schools today.
*NOTE: I talked with my son at great length about sharing his story. He gave me full permission and hopes that telling others about what he has to go through every day will either move someone to act, or encourage other kids and parents to know they are not alone. This boy has more courage and heart in his little pinky that many people have in their whole body.