Parents: Should My Child See the ‘Bully’ Movie?

Bully was released nationwide this weekend and now is available in many theatres, especially in larger markets.  We have to admit that we walked out of the movie with a pretty strong conviction that all middle-school children should see the movie, but as the film continues to permeate our hearts we’ve changed our views just slightly.

Bully now has a PG-13 rating because it eliminated much of the profanity.  The cautions we will list in a moment have really nothing to do with the PG-13 rating, but rather the emotions you will feel after this movie.  As you likely have already heard, the movie follows the stories of 5 families, 2 of the families had children commit suicide because they were tortured by bullying.  The movie does not have actors.  These are the actual families, children, friends, and schools that have been affected by bullying.  The stories and feelings elicited by the film are about as raw as you can get.  We don’t know what is more heart-breaking—to see the children suffer verbal and physical abuse at the hands of the bullies, to see the victims and even school administrators normalize the bullying, or to see the parents’ anguish at the effects of this abuse on their children.  Two days later, we still cannot stop thinking about this movie, which says it is a really phenomenal piece of work.  That said, there are some things you should consider when trying to decide whether or not to take your child to see it.

We have read several reviews of this movie and almost universally, the reviews say that all middle-school and high-school age students should see the movie.  We do agree that the appropriate audience should be for middle-school age children and older.  That said, this is a movie that you should see with your child. You may want to use some caution with the following groups of children and teens (even if they are in middle or high school) when you are deciding whether to have them see Bully:

1) The subject matter may be difficult for those who are currently experiencing peer victimization at school or on the bus.  The movie could inspire them to view the problem differently, realize they are not alone, and motivate them to speak up against the abuse and not minimize the bullies’ actions.

2) Children or teenagers who are battling some depression or anxiety that has nothing to do with bullying at all.  Some children may have too many other things on their mind and do not necessarily need or want have more problems to think about.   Some children may have first-hand experience with suicide—either in the family or close family friends and this movie may heighten the emotions they are already having with the effects of suicide.  The deep psychological effect bullying has on victims, family, friends and the community may be shocking, but not necessarily something your children won’t have already been exposed to or witnessed at school.

That said, if your child does fall into one of these two categories, it does not mean that they should not see it—just prepare them for the stories in the movie.  Respect children’s cues about whether they want to see it.  This is not a movie that should be forced viewing for children.

What about Children Younger than Middle School?

The decision whether to have younger children (e.g., 4th or 5th graders) see the movie should be decided on a case-by-case basis.  We know bullying does not necessarily start in middle school.  There are some children who are exposed to bullying in 3rd and 4th grade.  If your child has been exposed to bullying in school either as a bully, a victim, or a bystander, tell them about the movie and ask if they want to go see it.  Take one of the stories in the movie.  Ty Smalley was an 11-year-old boy who committed suicide.  He was in 6th grade, but the bullying reportedly had been occurring for 2 years—meaning it started in 4th grade.  His 11-year-old best friend was a pall-bearer his funeral.  That best friend acknowledged how he, himself, used to actually bully kids in early elementary school years, but as he got older he changed because he realized he didn’t want to make other kids feel bad.  This clearly illustrates that bullying starts young and we need to start the active dialogue when kids are bullying others, bullied themselves, or exposed to bullying in any other way.  Seeing this movie might be a good springboard for talking about these issues and reinforcing that bullying should never be tolerated or viewed as normal.

Following the film, we encourage parents to have an open discussion with their kids to talk about the subject matter of the documentary, their children’s experiences with bullying, and the emotions elicited from watching bullying being played out on the big screen.   We will post an article soon on how to talk to talk to your child after viewing this movie.

Who Else Should See This Film?

This movie should be mandatory for all adults to see, especially teachers, school administrators, bus drivers, coaches, and anyone else who regularly works with children.  Perhaps the most shocking and disheartening thing to see was the reaction of the school officials, even when the victims called them out on not taking action on prior situations of bullying.   We hope the adults who see this will recognize that mistakenly placing more responsibility on the victim by responding to bullying with a phrase like, “Well, let’s just all get along” or “Boys will be boys” can inadvertently exacerbate the problem.   Further, adults and parents need to immediately stop and address bullying when they see or hear it occurring and parents of both parties should be notified.  In order to make a difference for children, adults will have to take on a proactive role in helping children to identify and respond appropriately and promptly to bullying.  This includes parents having a very keen ear when they hear their kids talking about their peers and correcting any negative comments they hear.  Bullying should never be tolerated.