Like many who have seen the film, I agree that the initial R rating of the film, ‘Bully’ was counterproductive. Tara Parker-Pope writes why the film is a family film here.

I encourage parents to bring children as young as 13. The language can be extremely upsetting but children are witness to this every day. Parents be at the ready! Seeing this film should lead to a discussion about how your child connects to the film and coming up with a “game plan,’ if they are witness to bullying or are victims of it. Often times children who are bullied or bystanders are resistant on disclosing the behavior for two reasons:

  • That the bully will target them more or target them instead (if they are a bystander).
  • The adults won’t take their concerns seriously.

Watching the film is a teachable moment for you and your child. As parents, you can help your child develop a sense of integrity that no one should be treated poorly and feel unsafe. Additionally, you are letting your child know that you do take this matter seriously and they should not be afraid to tell you should this happen. The shame felt by victims and bystanders all too often helps perpetuate the bullying cycle.

What do you do if your child identifies as a bully? I had a mother ask me this during a parent talk last year! First and foremost, expressing to your child that their behavior is unacceptable and that there are consequences for their actions when they come to your attention. I encouraged her to discipline her son for his behavior, discuss with him why his behavior is unacceptable, try to uncover some reasons why this may be happening and lastly reflect on how their home environment can foster empathy, compassion and kindness. Bullies learn their behavior often from their own experiences of feeling victimized. I want to point out that I emphasize behavior because we want our children to understand that feelings are one thing, behaviors are another. You can feel angry but do not have to shove someone into a locker. If we can help our children tease out feelings from behaviors, we allow them to develop better affect management.

For child that identifies as a victim, I always suggest first to respond to what you see. If your child discloses being a target, take in their facial expression: are they tearful? Do they look angry? Verbally mirror the feeling you see so that your child can feel understood and validated. For example if you see anger in your child’s face, “I can see you’re really angry! I’m so sorry this is happening and I’m glad you’re telling me so I can help you.” Feeling validated can go miles for a child who feels victimized! Once you are made aware of bullying, informing other adults about what’s happening and advocating for your child’s safety is an intuitive next step. A difficult one none the less! This is where it can get tricky for parents and I plan on writing about tips on approaching you’re child’s school in the coming weeks.

Finding out what happens in your child’s day is vital in ensuring they are safe out of your home. While they may not tell you everything, seeing this film together can open up a dialogue that might only happen after an incident.

UPDATE: 4/6/2012 I’ve just learned that an edited version of the film received a PG-13 rating! Nation wide release is scheduled for April 13, 2012.

Sad boy photo available at Shutterstock.