The Bully Effect

TV review by
Emily Ashby, Common Sense Media
The Bully Effect TV Poster Image
Inspiring Bully sequel stresses power of standing up.

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Positive Messages

Following up on the heartbreaking tale of one of Bully's subjects illustrates just how much good can come from a person's willingness to speak up when they witness this kind of behavior. Not only has Alex's life changed for the better, he's been inspired to use his experiences to help others in the same position, starting what he hopes will be a ripple effect.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Alex is given hero status for his remarkable changes over the past three years and his ability to overcome adversity. Lee Hirsch, Alex, and Alex's mom talk about how much his life has improved since the true nature of the bullying he endured was brought to light. It's obvious that Alex enjoys his newfound popularity, but the fact that he's using it to inspire others is the true message here. Anderson Cooper also uses his status to give credence to this issue, summing up reporting work he's done on it over the years.


The movie replays a few of the physical exchanges from Bully, watching classmates hit, shove, and entrap a young victim, who asks them to stop and wonders aloud whether any of those around him are his friends. He and his parents talk about the physical abuse he endured, and his mother reflects on worrying about whether he would "decide he didn't want to be here anymore," implying she feared he might turn to suicide in his depression.


A teen talks about his newfound popularity, especially with girls, who often ask him out.


All cursing or questionable language is muted/blurred so thoroughly that it's nearly impossible to guess what words are being said, but there's quite a lot of it coming from middle school-age kids.


Numerous prompts and voice-overs encourage viewers to log onto the website associated with the anti-bullying initiative to share stories or chat with other people.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Bully Effect is a follow-up to the gritty documentary Bully and follows the evolution of one of the original's subjects as a result of his decision to speak up about his victimization. Overall it's much lighter fare than you'll see and hear in the original -- especially when it comes to strong language, all of which is edited out in this one -- although it does revisit a few dramatic scenes of a 12-year-old boy being physically abused by his peers (they hit, punch, and terrorize him on the bus) and a brief clip from an interview in which he talks about the depression he suffered as a result of being bullied. This movie's message is hopeful and forward-thinking, as the now-teen and his family discuss the empowering experience of his speaking out against bullying in the public forum. There are numerous prompts during the movie that encourage viewers to visit the "Stop Bullying: Speak Up" initiative's website for further information and additional anti-bullying tools and discussion points.

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What's the story?

THE BULLY EFFECT picks up three years after the filming of Bully with the continuing story of Alex Libby, a longtime victim of physical and emotional abuse by his peers whose life changed dramatically when he spoke out against their behavior in Lee Hirsch's tell-all documentary. After a recap of the struggles Alex endured at the hands of his classmates, the story skips ahead to his new life as an outspoken activist for bullying prevention. Once shy and reserved around other people, Alex now enjoys being the center of attention, and he uses his experiences to reach out to others who are struggling with the problem. The movie concludes with an interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper, an activist in his own right, who weighs in on the current state of this issue.

Is it any good?

This vital documentary plays an integral role in encouraging dialogue among families and within schools about the bullying epidemic. Hearing Alex's story will first infuriate, then inspire you, and you'll never look at kids' relationships the same again. Alex's tale has a happy ending because of the willingness of an outsider to speak up on his behalf, and communicating this crucial message is the show's primary goal, since it's linked to a nationwide initiative to educate kids and adults about the unique nature of bullying in today's society.

Because The Bully Effect's focus is on Alex's new, happier life, the content isn't as heart-wrenching and raw as was the original's, so there's less concern about sharing it with your tweens. (And at 30 minutes long, it's more likely to keep their attention than Bully did.) It does replay a few scenes of kids physically abusing and tormenting him, but any strong language is edited, and these scenes are short-lived. Cooper also raises the issue of technology's role in modern bullying behavior, reminding viewers of all ages that their discussions must take into account the added vulnerability brought on by kids' constant social accessibility.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about people's responsibility to be aware of this issue. What should you do if you see bullying behavior? Why is it sometimes difficult to stand up, not stand by?

  • What measures do your schools have in place to deal with bullying? Do you think they go far enough? Where does their authority to handle these issues begin and end?

  • How does social media complicate the issue of bullying? Is it easier to say hurtful things in a virtual conversation than it is in person? What is the fallout of this kind of detached communication? Is cyberbullying as damaging as physical abuse can be?

  • Who do you consider to be your best advocates in this type of battle? Do your school administrators seem sympathetic to victims of this kind of behavior? Why or why not?

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