Posts Tagged ‘How to UnMake a Bully’

The Real “Mean Girls”

July 3, 2014



It is of no surprise that the 2004 Hollywood movie, Mean Girls, went on to become a major hit. It clearly struck a raw nerve with teens and adults alike. Ask any female adult whether mean girls haunted their school corridors and infiltrated their classrooms and cafeterias, the answer will invariably be, “Unfortunately, yes.”

The problem with the movie, in real terms, is that it offered stereotypical characters and no solutions. For a film that so many could relate to, it was disappointing that it had precious little of substance. Good for a laugh and perceptive at times, but not much an impressionable child could take from it. It is of no coincidence that a student in my school followed the lead of the villain rather than the heroine and compiled a “Burn Book” (a notebook filled with rumors, secrets, and gossip about the other girls and some teachers), just like the one featured in the film.

Enter Mike Feurstein!

For those of you who don’t know, I have been a huge advocate of Mike’s from his first groundbreaking anti-bullying film, How to UnMake a Bully, onwards. He has since made 5 other anti-bullying movies, making him one of, if not the most, prominent figure in this genre. His films are able to expertly get to the heart of everyday social and emotional challenges met by a great many children, and quite brilliantly assist in providing advise and sound methodology without coming across preachy or tacky.

I have since been able to work with him personally, and have seen how he bases his narrative on the experiences of his cast and involves them in all aspects of the film making process such as  lighting and sound.

In this, the 6th entry into the UnMake series, he gets to the heart of the Mean Girls experience and offers a great platform for its young viewers to reflect on their attitudes and behaviours as well as motivating them to consider a positive approach to dealing with this issue. It’s comparisons of the erosion of friendships to that of the earth is a masterstroke!

I recommend this film strongly to teachers and parents:


Click on the link to read Anti-Bullying Song Goes Viral

Click on the link to read Some Schools Just Don’t Get it When it Comes to Bullying

Click on the link to read The Bystander Experiment (Video)

Click on the link to read Tips for Managing Workplace Bullying

Click on the link to read 12,000 Students a Year Change Schools Due to Bullying

Click on the link to read The Devastating Effects of Bullying (Video)

Click on the link to read Sickening Video of Girl Being Bullied for Having Ginger Hair


12,000 Students a Year Change Schools Due to Bullying

November 4, 2013




Changing schools used to be a rarity when we were students. Nowadays it seems it has become not only extremely common, but in many cases a survival technique:

Thousands of parents are taking their children out of schools because of severe bullying, a Mail on Sunday investigation has found.

More than 2,000 parents who applied to transfer their children to new schools in just 28 local authority areas in the last school year gave bullying as the reason. The figures would rise to 12,000 if extrapolated across the UK.

The findings have dismayed school heads and campaigners. Charities blame 40 per cent of suicides among 11 to 14-year-olds on bullying.

The new figures were compiled from freedom of information requests to 150 local authorities for a breakdown of the reasons parents gave on ‘in year application forms’ for wanting to move their child during the school year.

While most councils said they did  not keep this information, 28 revealed that 2,300 parents said they were changing schools because of bullying.

North East Lincolnshire said 173 applications out of 2,217 cited bullying, while in Essex it was 444 out  of 12,695 and in Nottingham 131 out  of 3,424.

If this were replicated across the country, about 12,000 parents applied to move their children for that reason during the past school year.


Schools must work on bully proofing their environment as quickly as possible. Instead of waiting for the problem to arise they must offer an environment that acts as a disincentive for negative behaviours. They must offer alternatives to bullying by teaching good communication skills, anger management methods, problem solving tips and ensuring that its teachers are eager to help their students sort through problems that may arise.

The following series of films is sure to help achieve these goals.

Report Shows that Anti-Bullying Programs Actually Cause Bullying

October 10, 2013


It’s so easy to read a report that claims that anti-bullying programs actually increases incidents of bullying and throw your hands up in despair. But the truth is, that it isn’t the principle of teaching such skills to our students that is the problem it is the strength of the material and how its core messages are backed up within the school culture.

A major issue for school anti-bullying programs are that they are conducted in the classroom. The classroom in many cases has a stigma and therefore it is hard to find a program that doesn’t feel like more schoolwork. Additionally, many such programs feel preachy, saccharine and completely out of touch with the lives and interests of the student population. Lastly, teaching students to value and respect others is extremely difficult to pull off in an environment where many students feel undervalued and disrespected. How do you get students to respect others when they have trouble respecting themselves?

In other words, it is the range of programs that is to blame, not the principle of teaching children how to treat each other. That’s why I was fortunate in 2011 to discover what I believe to be the most refreshing, innovative and groundbreaking addition to what has become a tired and listless genre. A series of anti-bullying films entitled How to UnMake a Bully is, from my experience, able to speak to school aged children in a way nothing I have come accross ever has. Amongst other important life skills, it focuses on strategies for supporting victims of bullying, helping bullies change, empowering bystanders, reacting to low and high grade bullying scenarios, creating a schoolyard united stance on bullying, respecting others and ones self and adapting to change. My love for these movies and the way in which my students have responded to them have made a world of difference to my students’ lives and actions. So much so, that their fan letters and a subsequent Skype session with the cast and crew led to their participation in one of the upcoming films in this extraordinary series.

Instead of feeling despondent about anti-bullying programs, please watch these films (which I have posted below for your convenience) with your students. It will entertain and move them, whilst also setting a framework for increased communication, awareness and overall empowerment.


10 Steps Parents Can Take if their Child is Being Bullied

September 17, 2013


Courtesy of

  1. Make it safe for your child to talk to you. When your child comes to you to talk about a bullying experience, try to avoid having an emotional reaction. It can be scary for a child to hear that a parent is planning to lash out at a peer or parent. Calmly ask questions until you feel you completely understand the situation (Is it bullying, a peer conflict, or a misunderstanding?). Try not to leap into action right away, but instead focus on making sure your child feels taken care of and supported. Without blaming the bully, remind your kid that everyone has a right to feel safe and happy at school, and applaud the courage it took to take a stand and talk to you. Make a commitment to work with both your child and the school administration to resolve the issue.
  2. Teach your child to say “Stop!” or go find an adult. Research shows that most bullies stop aggressive behavior within 10 seconds, when someone (either a victim or a bystander) tells the perpetrator to stop in a strong and powerful voice. You, as the parent, can role-play an assertive response. Demonstrate the differences between aggressive and assertive and passive voices, as well as body language, tone of voice, and words used. If staying “stop” with an assertive voice does not work, teach your child to find an adult right away.
  3. Talk with your child’s principal and classroom teacher about the situation. Make it clear that you are committed to partner with the school in being part of the solution. Also emphasize that your expected outcome is that your child’s ability to feel safe and happy at school is fully restored. Ask the principal to share the school’s bullying policy, and make sure any action plan begins with notifying other teachers, recess aids, hallway monitors, and cafeteria staff so that everyone who comes in contact with your child can be on the lookout and poised to intervene should the bullying be repeated.
  4. Arrange opportunities for your child to socialize with friends outside of school to help build and maintain a strong support system. Try reaching out to neighborhood parents, local community centers with after-school activities, and your spiritual community. The more time your child can practice social skills in a safe environment, the better. Children who have friends are less likely to be bullying victims—and, if your child is bullied, friends can help ease the negative effects.
  5. Don’t go it alone. When supporting a child through a bullying situation, parents often discover previously unnoticed issues that may contribute to the child’s vulnerability. In addition to working with the school to help resolve the immediate issue, parents should also consider reaching out to physical and mental healthcare providers to discuss concerns about diagnosed or undiagnosed learning issues, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, etc.
  6. Encourage your child to stick with a friend (or find someone that can act as a buddy) at recess, lunch, in the hallways, on the bus, or walking home. Kids are more likely to be targeted when they are alone. If your child doesn’t have a friend to connect with, work with the school to help find someone to act as a safety partner.
  7. If cyberbullying is an issue, teach your child to bring it to the attention of an adult, rather than responding to the message. Many children fail to realize that saying mean things about someone on the Internet or through text messaging is a form of bullying. Make sure your child knows that you take cyberbullying seriously, and that you’ll be supportive through the process of handling the situation.
  8. Help your child become more resilient to bullying. There’s a lot parents can do to help “bully proof” their kids. Here are two biggies: first, provide a safe and loving home environment where compassionate and respectful behavior is modeled consistently. Second, acknowledge and help your child to develop strengths, skills, talents or other positive characteristics. Doing so may help your kid be more confident among peers at school.
  9. Provide daily and ongoing support to your child by listening and maintaining ongoing lines of communication. When your child expresses negative emotions about peers, it’s helpful if you acknowledge these feelings and emphasize that it’s normal to feel this way. After actively listening to the recounted bullying incident, discuss the practical strategies in this article together, especially the ones your child thinks will be most helpful.
  10. Follow Up. Even after your child’s bullying situation has been resolved, be sure to stay in touch with your child and the school to avoid a relapse of the issues. Keep the lines of communication open with your child, and learn the signs of bullying so that if another issue arises, you’ll be prepared to get involved early and effectively. Although a last resort, consider moving your child out of the current school or social environment. This may be a necessary action, and it sends the message that your child truly does not have to tolerate such treatment. Once established, social reputations among peers can be very difficult to eliminate. A fresh start in a new school environment may be a viable solution.


I would like to add another three steps of my own. Watch and discuss the following films with your child:



Click on the link to read The Devastating Effects of Bullying (Video)

Click on the link to read Sickening Video of Girl Being Bullied for Having Ginger Hair

Click on the link to read Our Young Children Shouldn’t Even Know What a Diet Is?

Click on the link to read Charity Pays for Teen’s Plastic Surgery to Help Stop Bullying

Click on the link to read Most People Think This Woman is Fat

Click on the link to read It’s Time to Change the Culture of the Classroom

Finally an Anti-Bullying Resource that Works

June 26, 2012

I have just watched the second installment of the How to Unmake a Bully trilogy with my students. The second film focusses on the topical issue of Bystanders. It has always been difficult for teachers to motivate bystanders to act. The standard anti-bullying programs and resources don’t measure up to this brilliant piece of film-making.

It only took twelve days for teacher Mike Feurstein and a cast of elementary students from Glendaal Elementary School to shoot this movie. From the extraordinary shot of a child with cafeteria tray in hand being rejected from every table he tries to sit at to the chilling scene where a bystander gets the courage to speak out against a bully, this film speaks to children in a way other resources fail to.

I watched the film with my students and they were enthralled, They even gave it a standing ovation during the closing credits. This is a tribute to Mike’s well drawn characters and his use of comic and superhero references. The idea that children have the very same super powers they pretend to posses during role play situations is a stroke of genius.

Here is a movie that is perceptive, knowing, vibrant, beautifully constructed and shot and will get your students reflecting about their experiences, behaviour and future choices. Throw away your old tired resources and bring these films into your classroom.

(I suggest you show them the first film in the series, How to Unmake a Bully, before you show them Bystanders – How to UnMake A Bully, Volume 2 ).

Praise Your Children and then Watch them Bully

May 30, 2012

A new report dispels the long-held theory that bullies have low self-esteem. This report maintains that bullies often come as a result of being over-praised and over-complimented.

LAVISHING children with praise and constantly pumping up self-esteem is breeding a generation of bullies, groundbreaking research reveals.

Prof Helen McGrath from RMIT, a key player in Australia’s anti-bullying policies, says mums, dads and educators have spent too much time telling kids that “darling, everything you do is wonderful”.

Rather than giving children “trophies for coming seventh, eighth and ninth”, they instead need a good old-fashioned dose of reality – including in their school reports, she said.

“The silliest thing you can tell children is, ‘If you set your mind to it, you can do anything you want’,” Prof McGrath said.

Now the State Government has flagged a comprehensive discussion on teaching methods.

Education Minister Martin Dixon said last night: “What Prof McGrath’s research has shown makes good sense and is worthy of wider debate.

“While parents and teachers want to encourage their children and students to be the best they can be, it is also important that we are genuine. A measure of self-esteem is good, but a large dose of self-respect and respect for others is even better.”

Well-meaning parents and teachers had been unwittingly contributing to the problem for 30 years through the “failed self-esteem movement”, she said.

“Parents love their children and are trying really hard to keep their self-esteem high, not realising … they’ve made the mistake of assuming that means their child can never have any failures, disappointments, sadness,” she said.

“But if we’re getting kids who are increasing in their sense of narcissism, and the need to be entitled and always get positive feedback … that is a fairly dangerous way for our community to go.”

It is fascinating to read of the Government’s clumsy response to this findings. They want teachers to start being “genuine” with the2ir students. Great idea! Now why didn’t I think of that?

It is quite a simple interpretation to think that bullies are just often children with overfed egos. The mistake this report seems to make is that it assumes that children grow to believe the messages that these parents send. The assumption is that these kids grow up thinking they can achieve anything they want (whether they have natural ability or otherwise).

This is not my experience. My experience tells me that such children weigh up the compliments and positivity they get from home with some of the negative talk they get outside, and it confuses them. Children who are constantly told how beautiful they are at home, are then called “ugly” and “fat” in the schoolyard. This mixture of messages makes them feel terrible insecure. Are their parents liars? Are their school friends just being cruel, or do they have a point?

So indeed, I do believe such children have low self-esteem. The realisation that some of the messages being sent from home are not shared by the world outside doesn’t inflate their ego, but rather, confuses them and makes them less trustworthy of others.

The best depiction of a bully (or I should say, “bullies”) comes from Mike Feurstein’s classic movie “How to Unmake a Bully“. Instead of portraying the bully as a person that has no characteristics that other children can related to, Feurstein paints him as a lost child, bullied himself in the past, without a undesratnding of other options and modes for letting off steam.

The beauty about the film is that after watching it, my students gain an appreciation and a unserdtanding not only for the victim but also for the bully himself.



Kids Fight Back Against Bullying

September 10, 2011

I just watched an absolutely incredible movie featuring 4th and 5th Grade students about dealing with bullies and bullying.  As the intro to the movie explains:

The following movie was developed with a cast and crew of only 4th and 5th Graders (and one 1st Grader) from Glendaal Elementery School.  They worked during recess, lunch, before and after school for 3 months.  They hope it helps shed some light on the issues of bullying, and helps anyone who might be experiencing the effects of bullying.

As someone who is currently preparing to make a movie with my Grade 5’s, I was blown away by this technical and artistic achievement.  The kids act beautifully, the direction is solid and the script is very effective.  I hope this garners worldwide attention and gets used in classrooms all around the world.  These kids have done more for bullying awareness than any anti-bullying program I know of.

Please show this video to your kids/class and let them enjoy the message.  You may want to use it to inspire your class to make a powerful film of their own.


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