May 24, 2012
By Lara Blackman BRONZE, New York, New York
Lara Blackman BRONZE, New York, New York
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

In recent years, a crusade against bullying has gained enormous momentum in the US. Lee Hirsch’s documentary, “Bully,” and organizations like the It Gets Better Project and the Born This Way Foundation have effectively illuminated the issue, surrounding it with the attention it deserves. Millions of advocates and supporters agree: every child has the right to a safe environment, and the physical and verbal harassment so many of them face must stop. What they don’t agree upon is how to stop it.
In Hirsch’s documentary, for example, some parents complain to school officials about mistreatment of their children. Many of these officials then claim to be doing all they can, and pin the blame on the parents of the bullies for not reinforcing lessons of appropriate conduct. In one of the final scenes, Kirk Smalley, who launched the Stand for the Silent organization after his son Ty’s suicide, encourages the kids themselves to stop the cruelty around them. He says that by taking the initiative to reach out to new students or anyone who looks like they need a friend, one person could save a life, and little by little create safe environments at their schools.
The movie, like many anti-bullying campaigns and demonstrations, does a great job of illustrating the issue and convincing audiences to care about it, but a less great job of identifying a root cause of bullying or explaining how we might help to stop it. In the credits, we are encouraged to learn more about the movement online at www.thebullyproject.com, where there are suggested strategies for advocating anti-bullying in our schools: hosting discussions, screening the documentary, and so on. Is this enough to resolve the issue?

When it comes to social behavior, children take cues from many places outside of the classroom. Teachers, of course, must maintain a no-tolerance policy towards bullying to ensure safety, but this alone won’t end the struggle— students aren’t under an educator’s supervision all day, and besides, many may continue to act out despite punishment. Bullying won’t truly subside until it goes out of style.
As unsettling as it seems, aggression and harassment have sneakily become esteemed elements of popular culture and adult life. Kids and adults spend hours engulfed in violent video games earning points for every kill, and look up to the prototype of the dominant, powerful Tough Guy they see in every other movie and T.V. show. These standards found in media seamlessly creep into peoples’ real lives: just ask the kids who are teased for not being athletic, or simply not being strong enough to take on their attackers.
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services defines bullying as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.” I would agree, except that bullying is in no way reserved for school aged children. They see— in a much clearer way than many suspect— what’s happening around them, and they mirror it back.

The author's comments:
Written for the Nick Kristof Bullying Contest.

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