55 middle school students and I crowded into our local movie theater this week, not sure what we would experience. Our group was a combination of kids from several classes at school, mixed ages, races, and genders, but the common thread that pulled us together was our experiences with bullying.
I don’t think there’s a person alive who hasn’t felt bullied. Sadly, it seems to be part of the human experience. And it’s not just kids that bully-I’ve experienced adults bullying kids as well as other adults. Working in schools as long as I have might have made my bully radar more heightened than most, but I still remember the childhood feeling of wanting to melt into the earth rather than be the last one chosen for a team, or the criticism for how I dressed or how quietly I spoke. I remember my high school classmate who died at the hands of a bully.
In fact, bullying has reached such epidemic levels that some independent filmmakers followed kids with video cameras for a year, inside and outside of school, to document exactly what is happening with bullying in America. The resulting film,”Bully”, is heartbreaking, terrifying, and leaves the audience wondering what to do next.
It didn’t take long for the mood in the theater to change from excitement to shock. Watching regular, American kids experience verbal, physical and emotional abuse on the big screen made my popcorn unappealing, and had me reaching for a tissue. I felt my body convulse with sobs as I watched Ty’s parents bury their 11-year-old son, a boy who reminds me so much of my own. As his mother, nearly comatose, rocked in his bedroom, wondering what she could have done to prevent his suicide, it was more than I could take. I wanted to scream at the screen, lash out at the pathetic creatures who taunted this little boy day after day until he felt, at 11 years old, his life wasn’t worth living. What person has the right to inflict this type of torture on another human being?
During our debrief after the film, my students kept coming back to the parents. How could they not have known what was happening? And what kind of parents would raise children to think that this type of behavior was acceptable? I wonder myself, if the parents of bullies even have an idea of what their kids are doing to other children. Do they think that they’ve raised their son or daughter to be intolerant of differences, to be an aggressor, to be a bully? And do they feel responsible for their child’s actions, even the slightest, when they find out that the baby they raised has turned into someone who takes joy in bringing others pain?
And I wonder about the parents of those who are bullied. Do they know what their child endures every day as they ride the bus to school, walk the halls, or eat in the lunchroom? Is their child ashamed to share their experience as a victim? I wonder what I would do if my son or daughter came home and told me that they never wanted to go back to school, that they had no friends, and they didn’t want to face another day.
Days later, these thoughts continue to clog my brain. I tuck my 12-year-old son into bed at night, and wonder why and how he’s escaped this torture. I watch my 15-year-old daughter, weary with studying, and wonder how she has escaped the cyber bullying. And then I wonder, do I really know what’s going on with them? Do they see this happening at school? Are they bullied? A bully? A bystander?
I tell myself all is well, I’m doing my job, and they are safe.
I wonder if Ty’s parents thought that, too.