"Bully," a new documentary by Lee Hirsch, exposes the first-hand effects of bullying and has brought up the issue again in everyday conversation. Last week, the Motion Picture Association of America changed the film’s rating to PG-13 after a month-long dispute.
The Department of Education estimates the number of bullied kids at over 13 million.
"We were able to see not only the huge toll bullying takes on the kids who are bullied, but also on their families. And we witnessed how administrators and schools are profoundly challenged in successfully dealing with bullying," said Hirsch in his production notes for the film.
Ben Franklin Junior High School of the Stevens Point School District is taking a tough stance on bullying.
"We all tease as human beings, but any time that’s intentionally done to hurt … that’s when it’s bullying," said Principal Connie Negaard. "It’s about educating kids and helping them understand what bullying can do."
A survey done at the school reported that 75 percent of students have never been bullied. That leaves 25 percent who have.
Bullying leaves a lasting effect on the students who are the victims. Lisa Bardon, Coordinator of Special Education at the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point remembers a young student that came to school with severe stomach aches and was unable to make the connection that it was an effect of bullying.
"It can be detrimental to their learning … self concept, their belief in who they are," Bardon said.
The nature of bullying has changed over the years with the introduction of social media, which makes bullying hard to control.
Molly Farley, a sophomore secondary English education major at UWSP has witnessed this type of bullying. Farley’s friend was bullied in high school by another girl starting rumors about her.
"It went on for a really long time, and the rumors were heard by a lot of people," Farley said. "They probably didn’t think much of it, but she’s never been the same since it happened." Farley herself was also victim to social media.
"I’ve gotten terrible messages from girls in high school. I guarantee they would never have confronted me in such a mean way had it been in person," Farley said.
In a school setting, this new kind of bullying is harder to monitor, but its after effects are still seen at school whether it be academically or emotionally.
"I’ve had a couple of students want to stop coming to school," Neegard said. In order to monitor bullying at Ben Franklin, the school has not only been consistently documenting instances, taking disciplinary measures, and contacting parents, but cultural awareness and tolerance is built into the curriculum.
"We want to make people aware that
there are differences and differences should be respected and treasured," Neegard said.
Tolerance is also something that Bardon teaches to future educators in her classes. Bardon takes a proactive approach rather than a reactive approach to teaching about bullying in her classrooms.
"It’s about creating a respectful classroom … it’s about helping get rid of prejudice and stereotypes," Bardon said. "It’s like medical care."
She went on to say that it’s always better if you take care of yourself before you get sick rather than trying to cure a sickness after the fact.
One of the biggest perpetrators of bullying are the bystanders who watch it happen and don’t speak up.
"Much of it [bullying] goes unnoticed or untold out of fear of the person getting bullied or of the bystander who is afraid to get involved," Farley said.
Ben Franklin keeps all of their sources confidential for this reason; students are worried about what others will say if they found out that they reported them and are scared for the possibility of becoming a victim themselves.
"[We] make reporting an expectation of the kids and not have students look the other way," Neegard said. Reporting is also something that is in the hands of the parents. Neegard said that most students will go to their parents, but not want their parents to report it because at an adolescent age having a parent stand up for you is socially embarrassing. However, Neegard reiterated that the most important thing that a parent can do is report it.
Once a bullying problem is reported, Neegard often has a one on one conversation with both parties involved.
"Many times just having a conversation ends it," Neegard said.
Taking the first step of reporting bullying is key to ending the issue.
"Most bystanders do nothing. They are empowering that [bullying] to continue. The silence gives permission," Bardon said.
"We made ‘Bully’ with the conviction that audiences, especially young people, can be moved off the sidelines and empowered to stand up for those around them," Hirsch said.