The much-anticipated episode of “The Bully Effect” by Anderson Cooper aired Thursday on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 covering a number of angles from four different families who have experienced consistent bullying. The piece offers a look into their everyday lives and shows the negative effects of bullying.
Following Lee Hirsch’s “Bully” documentary, Cooper’s coverage delves into the families’ history of bullying, the effects it has had on them, and where they are today.
Cooper explains how “Bully” provides a snapshot of where the country was 2-3 years ago, while “The Bully Effect” shows where we are today, including what programs are working, not working, and what more needs to be done.
One of the children featured in the “Bully” documentary is 12-year-old Alex Libby, who Cooper says is “the most inspiring story.” Libby has experienced both verbal and physical abuse, but is now touring the country shedding light on bullying.
In “Bully,” Libby said, “They push me so far that I want to become the bully.”
In UC Davis sociologist Bob Faris and Diane Felmlee’s study on bullying, they found that instead of kids falling into stable roles of bully and victim, involvement in aggression fluctuated from week to week, and 17 percent of students had played the role of both agressor and victim.
In addition to generating awareness, the documentary was also created in the hopes that more children will realize they are not alone, and will speak out.
Faris, who partnered with Cooper in researching school bullying and aggression, told 429Magazine that “half of the kids wouldn’t feel comfortable talking to their parents about bullying problems. Even when they do talk to their parents, they often feel helpless and the kids feel as if their parents can’t help. They feel powerlessness, frustration and all kinds of pain.”
Cooper, who confirmed he was gay in July 2012, has demonstrated a continued interest in stories of overcoming obstacles, having overcome his own throughout his life.
When he was 10, his father died during open-heart surgery, and in 1988 his brother committed suicide from jumping from the 14th-floor window of their mother’s NYC apartment.
Prior to joining CNN, Cooper worked for ABC as a war correspondent, which he has stated was linked to his brother’s death.
“Suicide is such an odd, taboo sort of thing, and my brother’s death is still sort of a mystery, so I became interested in questions of survival: why some people survive and others don’t,” he said in Interview Magazine with Brad Goldfarb.
As seen in “The Bully Effect,” suicide has a profound effect on families, such as that of Kirk Smalley, another boy featured in the documentary, who committed suicide when he was 11-years-old.
“There is a long history of social psychology showing that people stand around and watch things,” said Faris. “There’s a lot of evidence that suggests that people are not comfortable with these situations. It makes them feel really uncomfortable and stressed out; but they see everybody else not do anything so they don’t do anything.”
However, he points out that it doesn’t take much to create change.
“When one person intervenes it can really break the spell,” Faris explains. “And all it takes is one person and the other people who are feeling uncomfortable about it are much more likely to get involved at that point.”
The Bully Effect, stemming from years of research in the long-term effects of bullying victims, focuses on how individuals are making a change, on growth within the past several years, and on campaigns to end harassment and intimidation.