The Bully Effect: Giving a Voice to School-Aged Kids Suffering in Silence
Nearly one year ago a movie called “Bully” was released, which tracked the lives of five families and each of their children and the impact of bullying taking place at schools. Lee Hirsch, who was a victim himself of bullying at a young age, directed the movie. He wanted to something about it, and made the movie in addition to founding The Bully Project. We covered the movie release in our blog, and now CNN, in partnership with Cartoon Network, has released a documentary called the “The Bully Effect”. The documentary follows up one year later on some of the children featured in the movie to see how they’re doing. The goal of the movie was to be seen by one million children within a year at schools across the country. To date, 500,000 children have viewed “Bully”. “We wanted it to be a tipping point for the country, for parents, educators, all of us to begin to realize the enormity of the issue,” said Hirsch.
One of the principal victims of bullying in the movie was a boy named Alex Libby. As a result of his story and being featured in the movie, he has found his voice and one year later we see him working to help other kids around the country. Alex talks to adults and students about his experiences, and how with the help of the “Bully” project, his parents and others, he now stands strong and is an advocate for those who are being bullied. When we first met Alex in the movie, he was on the school bus being taunted and physically and verbally abused by other students day-in, and day-out. He described his despair: “They pushed me so far, I wanted to become the bully.” Today, his parents a say he is unrecognizable, with such confidence, standing tall, with so many friends and as his mom puts it “fighting off all the girls”.
Also featured in the “The Bully Effect” is a father, Kirk Smalley, who lost his 11-year-old son, Ty, after he killed himself as he couldn’t tolerate the pain in his life as a result of being bullied. Ty was small for his age and the target of constant harassment. In his honor, Kirk and other students began “Stand for the Silent” to help stop bullying. He travels across the world, doing presentations at schools (to date 521), talking to those who are victims of bullying and those who are bullies. There are more than 365 “Stand for the Silent” chapters at schools across the United States and around the world.
The documentary, in addition to showcasing these and other stories, also underscores the need to continue to take actions to stop bullying at schools. Nearly one-third of students ages 12 through 18 report being bullied. Furthermore, 85% of bullying is witnessed by bystanders, but only 10% intervene. The “Not On Our Watch” movement is used as a tool by schools to help mitigate bullying. With this tool, students and teachers look at the perpetrators, the bystanders, and those standing up to bullying. But more has to be done – nearly half of teachers are not trained on the issue of bullying.
Anti-bullying laws vary by state, and right now there is no federal law. However, the 113th session of Congress is expected to take up The Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA), a federal anti-bullying law, which was first introduced in 2011 by Senator Robert Casey (D-PA). The SSIA would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to require schools and districts receiving federal funds to adopt codes of conduct specifically prohibiting bullying and harassment, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The SSIA would also require that states report data on bullying and harassment to the Department of Education. This data must also be readily available to the public so that parents and the local community may know what is happening in their schools. Numerous education, health, law enforcement and youth development organizations support federal legislation to combat bullying and harassment, including the American Federation of Teachers, American School Health Association, National Association of School Psychologists, National Education Association, and National Parent Teacher Association.
“Bullying and harassment affect millions of students every year,” said Senator Casey. “I am re-introducing the Safe Schools Improvement Act [along with co-sponsor Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois] to help ensure that every child receives a quality education that builds self-confidence. This bill is a crucial step towards ensuring that no child is afraid to go to school for fear of bullying.”
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