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Movie inspired by true stories spreads shocking bullying message

Bethany Ramos is an editor, blogger, and chick lit author. Bethany works as Editor in Chief for Naturally Healthy Publications.

Controversial new anti-bullying movie should be required viewing for all parents

Here's a question that every parent is going to encounter at least once in their life: What do I do if my child is bullied? Or even worse, what do I do if my child is the bully?

If that question rings true for you, and it should, A Girl Like Her is the next movie you need to see on date night, in theaters March 27. A Girl Like Her takes a powerful look at the rampant school-wide bullying culture in our country, a culture that is only going to get worse and cost us more lives if parents don't start talking about it.

There are two important rules to remember when it comes to bullying: Hurting people hurt people, and a bystander who turns a blind eye is just as bad as the bully.

In the exclusive movie clip below, we see how parents react in a school board meeting called to deal with a shocking bullying event at South Brookdale High School:

Amy S. Weber, director of A Girl Like Her, was kind enough to sit down with SheKnows to discuss her passion project, the bullying epidemic and what parents can do to make a difference:

SheKnows: Besides what we see in the powerful A Girl Like Her clip and trailer, can you describe the mission of the movie?

Weber: The mission of A Girl Like Her was to tell a truthful, entertaining and relatable story that made an emotional impact on people so deep that they would leave the experience transformed. We wanted to capture the most authentic and true to life — true to a million lives — story as possible, inspired by youth experiences that have transpired over the last decade in our society. We aimed to create a film that not only captured the reality of what's happening in our schools today, but that also shines a light on a perspective that has not been seen before.

SheKnows: Have you experienced bullying personally or in your family?

Weber: Personally, I've been on both sides of this story. When I was just 6 years old, someone I thought was my friend bullied me physically. It started off just like any other friendship, but once I started spending time at his house, things drastically changed. He threatened that he would hurt me if I didn't do what he demanded, locking me in his trundle bed and in closets. I once told his mother how he was treating me, and she denied that her son could ever do such things. I was too scared to tell my parents what was happening, so I stayed silent. One day he threw me into the cement face first, damaging my four front teeth. I could no longer hide from my parents. They took immediate action to keep me away from him. I was safe since that day but the damage of his actions would stay with me for a long time. At 6 years old, I declared that I would never allow someone to hurt me again.

Less than a year later, we moved cities, and I found myself taking on a different approach to boys and girls who appeared threatening to me and to others. In truth, I became a young bully myself, fighting boys and controlling others. With this new approach to life, I can say that I didn't feel I had many friends. I would pretend that I didn't care, but I was hurting, which I could only express through anger. It was terribly sad. And so was I. I lost myself in the power struggle, and my true identity was nowhere to be found.

Since these challenging years, I have learned so much and have worked a great deal on myself. I know I am a person that projects. I have worked through that my whole life, and I still consider myself a work in progress today. While you could never compare me and the things I've done in my life to somebody like an Avery Keller [the bully in the movie], there are measures of everything. One of my greatest life gifts has been this particular challenge. The healing process continues for me, today; this film being one of my greatest healers.

SheKnows: In your work on the film, did you find "hurt people, hurt people" to be true?

Weber: Absolutely, I found this to be true throughout my entire life, including with myself during my formative years. This is one of the truest theories ever made. When we dissect that statement and look deeply into what it means, only then can healing begin and change take place. It's a simple concept, but a very deeply layered understanding.

SheKnows: Are there any major differences you have seen between bullying among boys and girls?

Weber: I have found that innately, there are differences between the two, as boys tend to be more physical, while girls tend to be more emotionally abusive. But since the age of social media, we're finding a great shift in the patterns with boys, with more emotional abuse being prevalent. But because boys are less likely to report bullying due to the social stereotypes of "boys will be boys," the current research is most likely unreliable, and the percentages are likely much higher than what is reported. But all in all, social media has definitely closed the gap between how these two groups bully.

SheKnows: What's the most effective way for a parent to address bullying at school?

Weber: This is a very tough question, but an important one. Over the years, so many parents have shared traumatic stories with me that in their attempts to protect their children against further bullying, it escalated the situation far worse than they could imagine, and as a result, they became victimized by the very system that was supposedly put into place to protect them. I believe that as parents, we can't do this alone. We need a support system around us within our communities that comes with sharing our stories and bringing these issues out into the open.

Our follow-up movement to the film, The Peacekeeper Movement, offers a few ways in which we can begin doing this, including welcoming youth to the conversation, equal to adults, to help each community band together to bring real social change that will make an impact. It only takes one family to begin. But we can no longer be silent, beginning with our own households, and we need to shout from the rooftops that we will not stay silent and watch as another child takes his or her own life — we will no longer stay silent as another child feels helpless that no one is there to protect her — and we will raise our voices to bring change, as uncomfortable as it may be to face, to each and every community that wants to live in a more kind and loving world. Back to the basics is where we need to begin. Love. Respect. Kindness. Humanity. Peace. I still believe these things are possible when we demand it, together. We could begin there.

At some point in your child's life, they are going to see, experience or be the bully. How are you going to react? Take some time to watch A Girl Like Her to fully understand what's really going on in your child's school. Our kids are never going to figure out how to cope with and stop bullying if we don't start talking about it. Like Weber said, "It only takes one family to begin."

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