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How to choose (or make!) an anti-bullying video that helps

Recently a graduate student was given the assignment to find videos on YouTube that are “helpful to kids in confronting bullying.” The criteria given the student were: Make sure the video…

Actor Jeremy Shada for CartoonNetwork's 2014 campaign (CC licensed)

Actor Jeremy Shada for CartoonNetwork’s 2014 campaign (CC licensed)

1. presents accurate information about both the problem and what bullying is (sometimes behavior’s just rude or mean, not bullying)
2. is made by kids for kids
3. shows kids standing up for each other
4. depicts step-by-step resolution, especially reporting to a caring adult
5. is realistic (not canned)
6. has some ethnic diversity

I’m adding these:

7. doesn’t depict suicide or attempted suicide (follows the suicide prevention field’s Media Guidelines)
8. is current (check the date the video was posted and think about whether its message, data, call to action, etc. are still relevant, because if it’s old, it can be inaccurate).
9. has no agenda – political, religious, etc. – other than preventing or reducing bullying and so doesn’t use political, religious, etc. language.
10. doesn’t label people as “bullies.”

I’ll explain in a second, but what do you think? Whether you’re looking for a video or looking to make one, what are your top criteria for a video that would guide and inspire people? Here’s what I think:

No. 1 is essential. Please make sure whatever video you pick or make doesn’t misinform your viewers. Do thorough fact-checking. If you’re looking at other people’s videos, make sure the filmmakers have done their homework – that any bullying statistics they present are accurate, based on responsible, agenda-free research. If you don’t do this, the video is not going to teach anyone anything; it’s going to misinform people. If you’re making a video, put your sources in the credits (see this for the latest U.S. federal data on bullying and cyberbullying).

I think No. 2, “by kids for kids” could make a search fun and challenging – videos by peers for peers are sometimes the most powerful – but isn’t essential. It was clearly ignored by the student who picked the videos below, because it appears just about all of them, whether professional or not, were produced by adults.

No. 3 is about using media to demonstrate the outcome we want, so this one’s desirable, I think, don’t you? No. 4 reflects what young social media users have come to expect from a YouTube tutorial (not a bad idea!), and No. 5 reflects what they and almost all of us find persuasive: authenticity. No.6 reflects our society, so I’d say it’s mandatory if aimed at viewers who live in it, wouldn’t you?

As for the ones I’m adding: No. 7 is very important, because setting up a cause-and-effect relationship between bullying and suicide is inaccurate, suicide prevention experts tell us (suicide is a complex issue and rarely has a single cause, they say), and depicting suicide can harm much more than help viewers. No. 8, about making sure the video is current, supports No. 1. If it’s not current, it’s not relevant to now – and is often inaccurate. No. 9 is probably obvious: If you’re coming from a particular agenda and use its language and arguments, your video is only going to represent and appeal to people who share that agenda and language – and so leave everybody else out. In other words, you’re seriously limiting the reach of the video’s message. As for No. 10 about not labeling anybody a “bully”: First, there’s just the ethical issue of giving a person this identity. Calling someone a bully is like calling them a liar, as if it’s their nature or who they are, rather than behavior that can change. In fact, a leading researcher on bullying, Dorothy Espelage at University of Illinois, even told USATODAY we should just stop using the term “bullying” in schools. “The word ‘bullying’ has really obscured our ability to focus on what’s happening to children,” she wrote in a report on the subject.

No better media literacy project

This is a great media literacy project, right – one that students can own?  Ideally, it’s a subject they care about. Bullying is not an easy subject; it can take courage to engage a group of people who may’ve experienced social cruelty themselves – as people doing the hurting, bystanders or people being hurt. So if you’re an educator, be sure there’s real buy-in, and people are willing to do the challenging work of thinking through solutions and applying criteria that make the project genuinely helpful. It could bring back pain some of them have felt in the past, so they and you may need to be there for each other (where social literacy comes in).

If that’s not looking possible, there are so many subjects students could own – e.g., the ethics of unboxings on YouTube, making accurate online tutorials, how-to’s of building in Minecraft, their social rules for Instagram or Snapchat, etc., etc. Whatever the project, Part 1 could be learning about fact checking (see “Related links” below), Part 2 about establishing the criteria that work for your subject, and Part 3 picking or making videos that meet those criteria.

For example…
Below are the 14 videos the grad student selected. I watched them all too and have added some notes next to each title, based on the criteria above. See if they help you find or make videos on the subject of your choice. Please feel free to add any criteria or thoughts you have in the Comments section.

  • McGruff the Crime Dog animated video.This very retro style is by definition very “by adults, for kids,” the opposite of criterion No. 2. It might have some appeal to little kids, but I hope I’m not being disrespectful of them in saying that, and I hope any teacher in lower-elementary grades who runs it by his/her students will let me know). A “detective,” someone completely outside the school setting, is presented as an expert on bullying, and he’s giving simplistic advice that we know from the research doesn’t help: “just ignore it and walk away.” School risk prevention expert Patricia Agatston, PhD, told me that, “If that worked, no one would have problems with bullying. That is the kind of advice that is particularly frustrating to youth.”
  • Bullying: You Are Not Alone.” Love the lip sync and dancing at the end. The video uses the “bully” label, though, and starts very slow and sad. Will it hold viewers’ attention all the way to the good part?
  • Anti-bullying awareness.” I think the message in this one is good, and it’s unusual that “indirect bullying” is being defined.
  • Cartoon Network’s show on bullying. This is my favorite of this group for a lot of reasons, especially diversity of all sorts: experiences, people and roles (victim, bully, bystander, adviser). It features President Obama, so do you feel that affects its currency?
  • Beekmantown Elem. School video. This video uses the widely used and too infrequently questioned “160,000 kids stay home every day, due to bullying” factoid. It’s “a compelling and frankly unacceptable number,” wrote Prof Justin Patchin, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center. He looked for its source and “quickly learned that it was frequently reported but rarely attributed to any specific study…. Most commonly, the statistic was credited vaguely to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the National Association of School Psychologists…. I never did find its original source,” he continued, “but instead wrote my own blog post pleading with writers to ensure the validity of – and cite – their sources.” He and his co-director, Prof. Sameer Hinduja, have now published their own research on this issue for videos to cite (and credit!). Here‘s more (2016) data to cite from the National Academies, which I haven’t seen in any videos yet.
  • Bullying-Farwell Elem. School. “Facts” are the basis of this whole video, so it’s completely useless if they’re not accurate, and there’s no sourcing in the credits. I haven’t seen research that says “9 out of 10 elementary school students have been bullied by their peers,” so I invite the filmmakers or anyone who has to put the source below in Comments.
  • Nobody Likes a Bully.” There’s an unusual (good) message, here, where a teen first depicted as an aggressor in the video is later shown as the target of bullying in his own home. He’s then shown googling “Why do I bully?” and has a change of heart that changes his behavior. There’s some pretty good advice from body-building personality “Coach Kozak” (who’s wearing a big cross necklace that could be off-putting to some viewers), but he uses some of President Obama’s exact words in the Cartoon Network video above, with no attribution. So he may be giving good advice but isn’t setting a good example in terms of using other people’s words and work. He uses the label “bully” but in a positive take-away message: “If you’re a bully, then you have the power to change.”
  • The Cyberbullying Virus.” The video uses fear- rather than fact-based language such as calling cyberbullying “a pandemic quickly spreading around the world,” which it is not. Just a problematically, it goes against suicide prevention cautioning the media not to link bullying and cyberbullying with suicide – with no sourcing in credits.
  • Simply Susie Education Series.” It’s great that Susie talks about the vulnerability of special education students, which is unusual in bullying-prevention videos. But this video is dated – posted 5 years ago and ends with a contest, an “Anti-Bullying Challenge for Kids and Teachers” for “students & teachers of Caledonia, VT,” that’s probably no longer running. She also links bullying and suicide and cites numbers, such as “by middle school, 90% of kids have been bullied,” without providing her source.
  • MDJS Anti-Bullying Video 2015.” This is simple, straightforward storytelling from a student’s (target’s) perspective, which is what makes it honestly compelling – no hype or statistics. It’s also nice and short (3 min.). The video is posted from the UK, which may make it seem less relevant to students in other cultures and countries, so it’d be great to see students elsewhere to take on video projects that tell their stories.
  • Just Being Me.” Even worse than linking bullying and suicide, this video starts with depiction of a girl considering suicide, with her hand on a bottle of pills. In order not to spread harm, it’s vitally important that anyone who produces media follow the suicide prevention media guidelines at ReportingonSuicide.org.
  • Bullying – Stop It.” This gets about as far as a video can get from “by kids for kids.” It’s a video professionally produced by a church with a message for everybody and so could be seen as proselytizing.
  • 4 Ways to Deal with a Bully.” The message is good and presented engagingly but by a white parent and son in an apparently upper-middle-class home, which could narrow its appeal.
  • Spot it & stop it.” The video is set in a UK school where the students depicted are almost all white and in uniform. Uniforms are common in UK government (or public) schools, but this could suggest a private or parochial school in the U.S., which could limit its appeal. It’s also an “interactive” video, which creatively gives the viewer choices to make, but will viewers stick with it? Will it seem elementary to viewers? You tell me.

I want to give credit where it’s due: Certainly all the people, groups and organizations who posted these videos had the best of intentions. It’s just that media designed to educate, or even inspire, shouldn’t misinform, right? At the very least, let viewers know – if not in the credits, then in the description below the video – where data cited comes from.

Thanks to my friend and colleague Russell Sabella, professor in the Department of Counseling at Florida Gulf Coast University. He’s the one who gave his graduate assistant this assignment. Check out his Web site: GuardingKids.com.

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6 Comments Post a comment
  1. I want to help stop bullying in middle School and high school by Samuel Williams

    August 12, 2017
  2. Thanks for sharing this blog………i am really impressed with your point of views.Bullying is learned behavior also a part to get rid of bullying in schools.More of us still trying to stop bullying but remain unsuccessful.Thus,efforts should be continue.Atleast, if it never stop for ever but there are more solutions to stay away..

    April 2, 2017
    • Anne #

      Thanks for the kind words, Ashwin – and for Challenge Day’s fine work. Please feel free to use it if you challenge students to produce bullying prevention videos. I am a huge fan of SEL as the heart and energizer of bullying prevention, intervention and healing.

      April 3, 2017
  3. Thanks for posting this. I’ve seen “Just Being Me” and words can’t even… Why, why, why, would anyone think it is okay to depict suicide (or attempted suicide) in one of these videos.

    February 8, 2017
    • Anne #

      Thanks for your comment, Nicole. I wonder the same. Instruction in media literacy and social literacy (SEL) is needed more than ever!

      February 8, 2017

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