Now playing in South Beach and South Miami: Bully, the controversial documentary.
Every parent should see this - and more importantly, every middle- and high-schooler.
It will make you sad. It will make you angry. And maybe that's the first step toward ending this problem.
The film follows five kids from towns around the country who are systematically tortured by their school mates: A gay girl bullied into quitting the basketball team. A boy hit and stabbed with pencils nearly every day on the school bus. A girl who gets so fed up, she brings a gun onto the school bus. Two other boys who end up committing suicide.
In some cases, the parents had no idea of the severity of the abuse their kids were suffering. In other cases, parents went to school administration, or even the police, and got no relief.
The most infuriating part of the film - beyond the cold-hearted, animal behavior of the bullies - is the school administrator in Sioux City, Iowa, who is so inept that people in the theater where I saw it wanted to punch her in the face. The fact that she didn't even pretend to take the parents' complaints seriously on camera just underscores how clueless she is.
(A blog has sprung up to monitor her continued employment - see kimlockwood.com.)
Now that the film has a PG-13 rating, schools should be able to show it. Because the kids who really need to see it are the ones whose parents aren't likely to take them.
This is a profound opportunity for every kid to make a difference. Talk to your kids about how to treat other people - and to extend compassion and friendship to their classmates who may be struggling. Tell them to stand up for the new kids, the different kids, the ones who are picked on and who don't seem to have any friends.
One kind word, one show of support can make a big difference.
Jackie Libby, mom of Alex, the boy abused on the bus in the film, told U.S. News that every day since Bully premiered, people have told Alex he is inspiring. He even received a few prom date requests. Those kind words go a long way, Libby said.
"It works the same way both ways. You can build them up or drag them down, but words are very powerful," she said. (Read the whole report and watch a Bully trailer here.
And tell your kids to report the bullying they see. Our local schools have bullying hotlines (305-995-COPS in Miami-Dade; 754-321-0911 in Broward) and drop boxes on campus where kids can make anonymous reports. Make copies of the ones your kids submit. Don't let administrators use "we didn't know" or "no one reported it" as an excuse to tolerate this behavior. As parents, we need to follow up and make sure action is taken.
The makers of Bully are trying to change the culture. To get kids to stand up for tolerance. To make it cool to be kind. Isn't that what we all want for our kids?
At The Bully Project website, kids can tell their stories sand get ideas for how to make a difference at their school.
In the MomsMiami blogs:
Read the review of the film in the Movies forum. See it at Regal on South Beach and AMC Sunset in South Miami.
At MiamiHerald.com: How South Florida schools handle bullying