Monday, April 9, 2012

Bully: Is it a movie for children? By Guest Blogger Eliza Zipper

Bully is a call to action. The question is, who exactly is being called to action? The documentary, which was released on March 30th, follows the stories of five teens who are bullied and their families. It has gained a lot of media attention because its initial R rating would have prevented many children from seeing the movie. According to Lee Hirsch, the director and a native of Rockville Center, this would have prevented those who need it most from seeing the movie. The MPAA eventually repealed its decision and made the film a PG-13 rating. The edited PG-13 version of the film will be released on April 13th. So the question is, should you take your children to see it?

The movie is undeniably a must-see for parents, school staff, and anyone who interacts with children. As participants have learned through the Girl Scouts of Nassau County’s Critical Issues Initiative, people often make the false assumption that bullying only hurts the target. By showing the viewpoints of targets, reformed bullies, school officials, and parents, this film reminds us that everyone is hurt by bullying. The movie also gives examples of negative and positive responses to bullying from both children and adults. It reminds us that we all have the ability to turn cruelty into positive change. 

Parents should keep this call to action in mind as well as the fact that the movie does not represent all of the voices impacted by bullying. Although girls’ stories are depicted, the type of bullying that is most common among girls is absent. This type of bullying, relational aggression, includes using relationships as a weapon through exclusion, spreading rumors, etc. The film also follows teens who live in the South and Mid-West and does not discuss how school responses and state laws differ across the country.  

Parents should also know that although the film was originally rated R because of a few foul words in the background some of these have been edited out, it deals with some issues that may or may not be appropriate for your children, including  suicide, sexuality, and violence. The film tells the stories of teens who:
  • Have committed suicide and how this has impacted their communities, many of whom have turned their grief into change.
  • Experience violence on screen, talk about “not feeling anything anymore,” and need immediate interventions.
  • Dream of using their experiences to change the world.
  • Are bullied due to their sexual and gender identities.
  • Become violent towards others as a result of bullying.
Given all of this, should you take your children to see the movie? Maybe.  You know your child and what she can handle best. Ask her about some of her own experiences with bullying. Keep in mind that she may not tell you everything, so research what happens in your community. Ask other parents and school officials about what they see with their children and school.  Combine this information with your knowledge of your child’s personality to determine what she has already been exposed to and how she will may react to some of these issues.  At the very least, have conversations with your child about bullying. 

For more information about relational aggression and to see how Girl Scouts of Nassau County helps the community deal with it, go to

Below are some helpful questions and definitions you can discuss with your children before and after the movie. These are designed for a basic level of understanding, but can be applied to any age. You may want to alter them depending on your child’s age and experiences.

Sample Discussion Questions:
  1. What do bad friends or bullies do? Do you know anyone who is like this? How did it feel?
  2. What did you like most about the movie?
  3. How did the movie make you feel?
  4. Have you ever felt very sad or angry? What did you do about it?
  5. When you see someone being mean or bullying, what can you do about it? 
Possible answers include:
  • Ignore it/Walk away. If that does not work then:
  • Stand up to the bully if you feel safe to do so.  Be firm, but fair and say, “That’s not OK.  Don’t do that again.”  Then walk away immediately.
  • Tell an adult. For some children, especially teens, keep in mind that they may not feel comfortable talking to parents about these issues. Let them know this is OK and talk with them about who else they can go to.
Sample Definitions:
  1. Bullying – Behavior that is repetitive and done with the intent to harm someone.
  2. Suicide –When people get very sad, they sometimes try to hurt themselves. What’s important to know: Although it does happen much more often than we would like, it does not happen to everyone who gets sad. If you get sad, there are plenty of people who love you and are here to help you. (Talk about specific adults they can go to if they are sad).
  3. Homosexuality – Some men like to go on dates or fall in love with other men. Some women also like to go on dates with or fall in love with other women. These are homosexual relationships.
  4. Gender Identity – Some people who look like girls believe they should be a boy. They prefer wearing boys’ clothes and doing other things that boys like. This can also happen the opposite way – people who are born as boys may believe they should be girls.


  1. Thank you thank you thank you for writing all of this. I don't see the writer's name on the post to be able to thank her (or him) properly! SO true re: rural areas focus and lack of girl-on-girl-bullying non-physical aggression. SUCH an important film, though...

  2. SO important what you wrote here. (WHO'S THE AUTHOR, BTW??? would like to thank her/him).

    Agree 100% with the lack of urban-center focus (hard for those populations to relate to this) as well as lack of girl-non-physical bullying and aggression - and the lack of cyber-bullying..HUGE!!!

    But regardless, important film for everyone to see and the questions and framing ideas are EXCELLENT!

    Thank you!

  3. Eliza Zipper, Critical Issues Coordinator is the author.