The movie My Bodyguard was a pretty big hit when I was a teenager in the 1980’s, and I remember seeing it and cheering for Clifford (Chris Makepeace) in his battle with the incessant bullying dished out by Moody (Matt Dillon). It’s a pretty good movie. Sure, the kids get their revenge on the bullies, something I doubt many bullying victims actually seek, but it does a great job of capturing the eeriness of bullying. I remember wondering whether the bullies I grew up with rooted for Matt Dillon, who plays the bully with an absolutely perfect creepy heartlessness, and who, of course, gets his in the end.
I might be all grown-up but bullying continues, in both direct and virtual form; yes, today’s kids bully online too. Yesterday the New York Times launched the first article of an ongoing series called Poisoned Web, with an expose’ covering “cyber-bullying” – a newly coined term that covers all sorts of creative abuse that takes place through texting and on social networking platforms like Facebook.
Bullying has also gained national notice because of the case of Phoebe Prince (see the April 15, 2010 People Magazine’s cover story: Bullied to Death? Phoebe Prince: Her Final Days) who committed suicide on January 14, 2010 after months of being bullied by her classmates in the western Massachusetts town of South Hadley (near Springfield). Phoebe faced both direct confrontation and cyber-bullying, through negative Facebook messages and texts.
Phoebe Prince’s suicide has spawned a wave of anti-bullying legislation through the US, including a new Massachusetts statute passed on May 3, 2010, and another passed in New York just yesterday. The New York Times article does a good job of exposing some of the legal boundaries, many of them free speech related, to combatting forms of bullying that stop short of physical violence.
Over the years we have come to learn that there are long-lasting social effects to incidences of bullying. Its existence severely subverts the social atmosphere in schools and the emotional development of kids, regardless of whether they’re the ones doing the bullying, getting bullied, or just passively watching. Today we know that nearly 9 out of 10 kids say they have seen someone bullied and at least 10% of all kids are bullied on a regular basis. The National Crime Prevention Council reports cyber-bullying is a problem that affects more than 40% of all American teens and that, of those affected, almost 60% do not tell their parents or another adult (teacher) about the incident. We also know that bullies are 4 times more likely to evolve into criminals and that being bullied can cause children to experience fear, depression, loneliness, anxiety, low self-esteem, physical illness, and in some cases, even, as noted in the Phoebe Prince case and others, suicidal thoughts or even suicide.
We also know that bullying can be reduced by up to 50% when there’s a school-wide commitment to end it.
One organization committed to working to reduce bullying in schools is New York-based CSEE (The Center for Social and Emotional Education). George Igel, MD, psychiatrist, fellow healthcare investor and Chairman of the Board of Trustees for CSEE first introduced me and my partners at Psilos to CSEE a few years ago and we have been supporting its work ever since.
CSEE was founded in 1996 at Teachers College, Columbia University and their mission today “is to measure and improve the climate for learning in schools to help children realize their fullest potential as individuals and as engaged members of society.” One of these initiatives is to develop the tools and resources to create a school-wide climate intolerant of bullying.
CSEE’s bellwether program is called BullyBust, an awareness campaign designed to reduce bullying in schools by teaching students and adults how to stand up to bullying and promote Upstander Behavior including: helping others who have been bullied, stopping untrue or harmful messages from spreading, making friends outside of current cliques, and befriending new students, to name a few (See the 10 ways to become an Upstander here. Also see a library of student produced “Upstander Videos” here).
The BullyBust program has recently teamed up with the hit Broadway musical Wicked to bring the Witches of Oz (Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, faced discrimination when she was young because of her green skin and strange mannerisms) to classrooms across the country to teach important bully prevention strategies.
If you are intested in seeing Wicked please use the code “CSEE” when purchasing tickets and a portion of the sales proceeds goes to support BullyBust.
Meanwhile, in case you’ve forgotten what it feels like to face the wrath of the bully, check out My Bodyguard.