As ‘Bully’ Opens, the Bullied, Bullies and Bystanders Weigh In

BY Veronica Devore and Kelly Chen  April 13, 2012 at 11:14 AM EDT

Video editing by Thaisi Da Silva

A 12-year-old is harassed on the school bus, a 16-year-old lesbian is ostracized by her community and a young girl brings a gun to school to face her bullies. Two parents speak for their late son because he committed suicide after being tormented at school. These are the subjects of the much-anticipated film “Bully” from director Lee Hirsch, out in theaters across the country on Friday.

The early conversation about the film focused on a ratings controversy. The Motion Picture Association of America originally gave it no rating because of some profanity but revised its rating to PG-13 after widespread protest and an online petition. Groups advocating the ratings change argued that the target audience — young people who are most likely to be affected by or involved in bullying — would not be allowed to watch in most theaters if it had no rating.

Although bullying has likely been around as long as children have been going to school, the topic has gained increased attention in recent years due to several incidents of bullied students committing suicide or reacting with violence.

Studies show the consequences of bullying extend beyond physical and emotional anguish; it also profoundly affects students’ academic performance and willingness to continue in school. One in 10 students who drop out of school do so because of bullying, according to the awareness website

Individuals from across the country weighed in on the bullying issue ahead of the film’s release by sharing their experiences with the NewsHour. The anecdotes below come from the Public Insight Network and the NewsHour’s Student Reporting Labs program for middle and high school students.

Video shot by Granby High School students and edited by Thaisi Da Silva

“I tried to end my life because of the hardships that I dealt with due to bullying. Gladly I didn’t and got the help I needed. However, many kids don’t get this help due to stigma, lack of finances, parental support, etc. When I was being bullied, the bullies never suffered any severe or even mild consequences. They would just get a slap on the hand, a lecture, or their parents were brought into the situation. Now, I see it taken a lot more seriously, especially with everything popping up in the news.”

  • Whitney Johnson, Bellevue, Neb.

“I was tortured as a sixth grader. My family had just moved to a new town. I was late to enter adolescence, and I remember a couple of kids on the bus – one kid in particular – would hit me or steal my lunch, or spit in my hair when he sat behind me. I ended up with pretty bad anxiety and had to be medicated. I remember begging my mom not to make me go to school. She told me to tough it out. I hated it. I remember at my 25th high school reunion, (the bully) sought me out and actually apologized. I had joined the Navy, seen the world, gone to college and become fairly successful. Suddenly, there he was, twenty-odd years later, just a normal guy facing the same problems we all do. We hugged. I think we both felt a lot better.”

David Kane, Newport, R.I.


“Most of my students say that they have played at least two roles on the bullying circle, and some say they’ve been “every person on the paper!” Students need a path to redemption, so to speak. We don’t want them to internalize the message, ‘You are a bully,’ and have that become part of their personal identity. ‘You need to cut out the bullying’ is a much more effective message.”Rebecca Morrison, Makawao, Hawaii

There was never any discussion about bullying. As kids, we just knew who to steer clear of. Neither our parents nor our teachers brought it up. It was sort of an unwritten situation that most of us learned to deal with.

Jim Quinlan, Caledonia, Mich.

Video shot by Granby High School students and edited by Thaisi Da Silva

“While in elementary school I sometimes bullied other children. I think I thought it would make me feel better than someone, but it made me feel cruel. I never apologized and thought they’d forget. Later, when I moved back to that town, I ran into one of my victims at a pediatrician’s office. He asked me if I knew who he was and I guessed wrong. He had lost a lot of weight and now looked like one of the more popular boys. He was still angry and confronted me in front of my children for having bullied him. I said I didn’t remember (and don’t really, but believe it is probably true).”

  • Candice Underwood, Arlington, Texas

“I was bullied all through school. Teachers did not address the issue. When I became a teacher, I did not know how to handle it either and made only clumsy attempts. I received no training on how to handle it. It took me 20 years and therapy to get over what I went through in school. Some kids turn it inward, leading to depression, and other kids turn it outward, leading to anger and/or violence.”Nicole Tomassi, Philadelphia