Beyond bullying

Alex Hopkins, who stars in the film "Bully," is one of 13 million. And every one matters. (Photo: The Weinstein Company)

“Over 13 million American kids will be bullied this year, making it the most common form of violence experienced by young people in the nation,” according to the makers of the film “Bully” — which opens Friday in Arizona theaters. I saw the film during a Phoenix Film Festival screening earlier this month, and felt the experience was among the most devastating and important 90 minutes of my life. It’s that poignant. That gripping. That heartwrenching. And essential viewing for every parent, teacher and young person capable of seeing the harsh realities of bullying played out on the big screen.

“Bully,” which now has a PG-13 rating, was filmed over the course of the 2009/10 school year, but its release this month marks not the end of a long journey — but the beginning of a new one. “Bully,” says Cynthia Lowen, is meant to jumpstart a conversation that’s long overdue in this country. It’s time we banish the “kids will be kids” mentality, she says — because kids are hurting. And some are dying.

“Bully” was written and produced by Lowen and Lee Hirsch, who also directs the film. I was struck while watching each of five stories unfold on screen by the incredible realism of this film. Those who share their family stories are honest, courageous and absolutely committeed to seeing an end to it all — the namecalling, the bigotry, the verbal and physical aggression, the passive bystander mentality.

“Bully” puts its subject straight into the lap of those who watch it, expecting them to leave the theater with more knowledge, greater empathy and a will to action. People can help in different ways, reflects Lowen. But everyone must get involved. Start by being mindful of your children’s own experiences. It’s not always easy, observes Lowen, for children to tell parents what they’re experiencing at school. The bullied, she says, too often feel shame. And those around them too often do nothing.

Knowing that lots of parents and kids are eager to make a difference but simply don’t know how, I asked Lowen to share a few concrete suggestions. Promote effective bullying prevention programs in schools. Model civil behaviors to your children. Lose the aggressive political discourse. Get involved with anti-bullying programs in your community.

But most importantly, says Lowen, empower your children to be upstanders. Teach them ways to help and support their peers who get victimized — offering to walk a bullied student to the school office so they can file a report, volunteering to be a witness when the bullied student talks to school officials, sitting by kids who get picked on and being the student who stands up to bullying when it occurs.

Encourage your child to be the one who says something like ‘What you’re doing is wrong, and I want you to stop it.’ It’s an especially powerful message, says Lowen, when delivered by popular kids. If you’re looking for a way to make a difference today, start by taking your family to see “Bully” — and follow up with conversations about how you can, and will, make a difference.

Tomorrow I’ll share more of Lowen’s insights, and stories of the five families featured in the film. These children could be our children. In many ways, they already are. Give voice to their pain, and bring your power to protecting them. The best way to stop a bully is to stand up and stand together.

— Lynn

Note: Click here for film details, comprehensive bullying prevention resources and ways your family can get involved in The Bully Project

Coming up: Five families at the heart of “Bully”

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