“Kids will be kids.”

How many of us have heard our parents and other adults voice this sentiment when addressing the issue of bullying among students in K-12 schools?  When my now middle-aged parents were young, peer aggression was viewed as a reality of being in school, something that was normal and simply had to be endured.  Today, however, it is widely viewed as a public health issue, and we can find the topic of bullying and the negative health outcomes associated with it addressed on the CDC’s website.

Photo by Eddie~S via Flickr Creative Commons

The possible consequences of this set of behaviors have become gravely apparent via the series of youth suicides that have happened in recent years as a result of experiences of bullying, particularly among youth who identified as or were perceived to be LGBT.  These occurrences led to the birth of the now widely supported It Gets Better Project, which aims to support bullied youth by showing them that people care about them and that their life can indeed get better.

Bully, a documentary slated for limited release at the end of March 2012, continues in this same tradition, taking viewers into the lives of real young people who endure daily experiences of bullying.  Hearing firsthand accounts from the mouths of these students will surely be both moving and enlightening; however, this film also appears to address the thoughts and (in)action of school faculty and staff, parents, and fellow students.  In doing so, I believe this documentary highlights some crucial areas of intervention.

To address the issue of bullying, promote mental health, and prevent youth suicide, we cannot confine our interventions to the youth experiencing aggression themselves (though, teaching them skills of self-advocacy, help-seeking, and coping is undoubtedly important).  Perhaps more critical are efforts to address the people around them, both those who bully and those who stand silent as acts of bullying are perpetrated against others.  The optimist in me believes that peers, teachers, parents, etc. want to help those around them who experience bullying, but they simply do not always know what to do or how to do it.  Luckily, resources and research are available to show these individuals how they can make a difference for their friends, children, and students.  The approach to this issue must be multi-level and collaborative, supplying all parties with the tools needed to understand and speak out against bullying.  Ultimately, each of us must stop selling ourselves and the youth around us short by believing that aggression and meanness is simply a function of being a “kid” and start believing in the potential to create solutions together.