"Why can't adults see what kids do to each other?"
That was Crafty's question after watch the documentary Bully. I had no answer for her. My heart was breaking. We had spent an hour and a half watching a documentary of kids being abused, marginalized and let down by the adults in their world. This was the third time I had watched the documentary but it wasn't getting any easier.
The first time I watched this film I was crying 14 minutes into it. I was devastated by the blatant acts of violence and cruelty kids were committing against each other. I was horrified that the adults in the situations seemed so ill-equipped to deal with what was happening and I was heart broken because I knew that this wasn't a work of fiction, that this was real life for far too many kids, for far too many kids in our own community.
I then watched the film again with Dude and Crafty separately. I wanted to hear their unbiased take on the film and I wanted to give them opportunity to process and talk about the similarities and differences from the film to their own school experiences.
Dude and I had a lengthy discussion about fear and intimidation. We talked about how being targeted changes who you are and how you see yourself. We also talked about suicide and impulsive, destructive acts that leave a wake of devastation. We talked about what has happened to him this year and reviewed some of the plans we had made to help him get help when he needs it.
When I watched the documentary with Crafty I was surprised at how many of the same scenes that caught Dude's attention also affected her but her perspective was often very different. In one scene a boy is walking through a school yard and another boy comes up to him and punches him. The boy who was punched then follows the one who punched him. When Dude watched that he yelled at the TV, "Don't go, you're not safe!" When Crafty watched she quietly said, "That's the first kid to even notice him, no wonder he followed him."
So when the film finished and Crafty asked why adults don't see what kids do to each other I asked for clarification. I asked her if she felt that the adults in her world don't see when kids are being aggressive and harmful to each other.
"They see when we hurt each other, like the hitting and kicking and stuff but I don't think they see how kids torture each other with popularity."
Wow. Out of the mouth of babes.
I knew exactly what she meant. We had had many conversations and brainstorming sessions in recent weeks surrounding this very topic. Crafty and her pal Ace are often roadkill on the highway to middle school popularity. They have been run over by peers eager to climb the social ladder, they have jumped on the bus in a desperate attempt to survive only to discover that the bus they were on was taking them further from who they really are and far too many insults and put downs have been flung at them from those racing along in pursuit of their own position of belonging.
Crafty and I sat for a long time and talked about the price of being accepted, the true cost of inclusion. She said that she wasn't looking to be popular, just accepted for who she is and who her friends are. She doesn't want to be front and centre, she wants to be part of the crowd, just one of the group. But even the price for baseline acceptance can be steep.
She cried as she told me how she has been caught up in gossip, how she has been pressured to abandon her friendship with Ace, how she has behaved in ways that she's not entirely comfortable with just so she can earn a seat at the lunchroom table, literally. His experience has been no different but despite mocking, gossip and cruelty these two pals have stuck it out.
Yesterday, as I watched Ace and Crafty walk off toward his house I marvelled at the resiliency of friendship. These two, like many other independent souls, have walked a hard road this year and yet when they are walking side by side they find an ease in their stride. Their burden is lighter when shared under the banner of acceptance and their hope is strengthened in the safety of unspoken promise to remain loyal pals.
I don't think its enough to teach our kids to be kind to one another. I think we also have to teach them to respect friendship wherever they see it, even if they don't 'get it.' I think they need to understand that being a good friend isn't just about being friendly to the people you like but its about accepting that everyone desires friendship and the friendship they find should never be a target for ridicule.
But that's just what I think.
If I was king of the United States, I'd make it so there was no popularity. I'd make it where everyone was equal.
~Trey, The Bully Project
for more information about The Bully Project watch this trailer and check out the website mentioned.