The fact that about 30 percent of school children are reportedly affected by bullying is much too real for Jackie Libby. Her 12-year-old son, Alex, lived a nightmare each day at school and on the bus, where he was regularly strangled, punched, stabbed with pencils, and verbally abused.
Viewers across the country will get an intimate look into the lives of Alex, and several other middle and high school students who are regularly harassed, when the documentary Bully premieres on April 13.
Bully, which recently won a battle against an "R" rating from the Motion Picture Association of America, shows the devastation millions of kids and their families face each day. One quiet, honor roll student in the movie was tormented to the point that she snapped and threatened her bullies with a gun. Bully also follows two families grieving for their children who felt so desperate that they committed suicide.
The film highlights the disconnect between what happens to bullied children at school, what parents and administrators are aware of, and the ineffective strategies of many school administrators for dealing with bullying.
When Libby told Kim Lockwood, the assistant principal at Alex's school, that her son was unsafe on the bus, Libby says, "We got bullied right out the door." In the film, Lockwood insisted that Alex's bus was "as good as gold," and she dealt with the school's bullies with just stern talks.
"Even the educators aren't any more equipped to deal with [bullying] than [parents] are," Libby says, "So there needs to be communication, and there also needs to be understanding."
[Check out three tips for parents to help their bullied kids.]
Lee Hirsch, director of Bully, hopes the film will initiate better communication among parents, students, teachers, administrators, coaches, bus drivers, and the "whole ecosystem of the school" about how to deal with bullying.
"For two years we've been alarmed and heartbroken over tragedy after tragedy that has been in the headlines," Hirsch says. "The awareness has been raising and raising and raising, and I think now people are actually ready to say, 'Enough.'"
As for 12-year-old Alex, his mother said in a panel discussion at the Bully pre-screening Tuesday, "Alex has always been great, but the difference now is that Alex is happy."
Every day since the film premiered, people have told Alex he is inspiring, she said at the panel discussion. 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."