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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Emily Bazelon Dispels Bullying Myths In ‘Sticks And Stones’

A high school hallway in Vicksburg, Miss. (Michael Gilliam/Flickr)

(Michael Gilliam/Flickr)

Bullying gets lots of attention but some of the discussion is shrouded in persistent myths – that girls bully more than boys, that online and in-person bullying are entirely distinct, that bullying is a common cause of suicide.

Emily Bazelon is author of "Sticks and Stones." (Nina Subin)

Emily Bazelon is author of “Sticks and Stones: Defeating The Culture Of Bullying And Rediscovering The Power And Character Of Empathy.” (Nina Subin)

A new book dispels the myths about bullying, defining what bullying is – and isn’t. It also offers guidance for when and how schools and parents should intervene.

Emily Bazelon is author of “Sticks and Stones: Defeating The Culture Of Bullying And Rediscovering The Power And Character Of Empathy” (excerpt below). Bazelon is also a senior editor at Slate magazine and a senior research fellow at Yale Law School.

“There are ways in which kids can stand with the victim as opposed to standing up to the bully,” Bazelon told Here & Now. “So you can counsel kids to send a sympathetic text message after they see someone who’s hurt. In polls of kids who’ve been bullied when they were asked what their peers did that helped the most those were the kinds of actions they mentioned. These small moments of empathy can actually make a huge difference.”

Book Excerpt: ‘Sticks and Stones’

By: Emily Bazelon

Emily Bazelon book coverFor centuries if not forever, children have bullied each other, and for almost as long, adults have mostly ignored them. The concept that children deserve special protection—as opposed to serving as a source of  cheap  labor—didn’t  exist until  the  nineteenth  century.  At that point, child-rearing manuals began urging parents to teach their children Christian kindness, making clear, for example, that an older brother who scalded his little sister’s kitten (after she used his kite to make a muff for it) was to be sternly instructed in the wrongness of his ways. Even then, though, bullying wasn’t considered worthy of much comment by adults—with the exception of a few sharp-eyed novelists. Only in the fiction of the era have I found tales of bullying that read like the real-life stories we tell today. Charlotte Brontë, for ex- ample, made her readers feel Jane Eyre’s misfortune by showing her cowering before a vicious older cousin: “He bullied and punished me; not two or three times in the week, not  once or twice in the day, but continually: every nerve I had feared him, and every morsel of flesh on my bones shrank when he came near.” A decade later, in 1857, Tom BrownSchooDays launched a thousand  British school novels with its account of eleven-year-old Tom’s thrashings at the hands of a seventeen-year-old tormentor named Flashman (“Very well then; let’s roast him,” Flashman calls to his buddies before knocking Tom into the fireplace). Looking back on her American frontier childhood in her Little House books, Laura Ingalls Wilder anticipated the modern- day mean girl in her character Nellie Oleson, who wrinkled up her nose  at  Laura’s  and  Mary’s  homemade  dresses.  “ ‘Hm! ’  she  said. ‘Country girls! ’ ”  And, “Don’t you wish you  had a fur cape, Laura? But your Pa couldn’t buy you one. Your Pa’s not a storekeeper.” Laura tells us that she dared not slap Nellie, who “went away laughing.”

These fictional kids—stand-ins for the real children left out of the history books—suffered their cuts, burns, and hurt feelings while the adults  stood by. No  teacher  or  parent  helped  Tom  or  sympathized with Laura. When Jane’s aunt interceded, it was to lock up her niece for defending herself. Fiction reflected a cold underlying fact of life: bullying was a matter of course. A battery of sayings would arise to dismiss its significance: Boys will be  boys. Just walk away. Ignore it. Sticks and stones may break  my bones but words will never hurt me. This basic stance remained largely unchanged in America for the next hundred years: bullying was an inexorable part of life, a force of nature, and the best thing to do was to shrug it off.

And then on April 20, 1999, that bedrock principle of child rear- ing collapsed in this country. That morning,  at 11:19, two seniors— Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold—walked into Columbine High School, in a suburb outside Denver, and opened fire on their classmates with semiautomatic weapons. When the forty-nine-minute rampage was over, twelve students   and a teacher lay  dead, with two dozen more students injured. It was  a dreadful awakening, for many of us, to the devastation that disaffected but normal-seeming middle-class teenagers can wreak. In the aftermath, a nation that had treated bullying as a rite of passage suddenly started to rethink its indifference. Harris and  Klebold weren’t themselves targets of bullying (or known bullies). But when  a subsequent  nationwide investigation revealed that most kids who turn into school shooters have previously felt persecuted, bullied, or threatened, the lesson was driven home: to brush off bullying was to court disaster, by ignoring a deadly serious threat.

Excerpted from the book STICKS AND STONES by Emily Bazelon. Copyright © 2013 by Emily Bazelon. Reprinted with permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


  • Emily Bazelon, author of “Sticks and Stones: Defeating The Culture Of Bullying And Rediscovering The Power And Character Of Empathy.”

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  • Mike

    I was bullied a lot.  I think it had major long term affects on me.  It may have had bad affects on national defense.

    I was an electronic power supply designer at a large electronic instrument manufacturing company.  In my spare time I was developing a (light-weight) power supply that might have replaced the heavy conventional power supplies on military fighter planes.  The difference might have been hundreds of pounds.

    But because my soul had been so crushed by other kids early in life, I didn’t fight to get the  management of my company to recognize a possible new product.  And believe me, in the company I worked for, you had to hit them over the head with a gold brick to get them to see a chance for success.

  • mary

    There also needs to be concentration on educating parents in the realm of how we innocently may contribute to passing the “art” of bullying down to our children. I have seen so many incidents of parents whose actions toward other adults should be considered bullying. Our children witness this and so the culture of bullying is passed down unwittingly through the generations.

    • Marmo

      Absolutely!  One need look no further than politicians on TV or even our local town hall meetings.  I’m convinced that we are surrounded by a lot of people that are nothing more than grown children.  They are quite self-righteous and unable to feel empathy for others.

    • Mike

       Yes.  In fact,  I think it’s part of the American culture.  We’re taught to compete with everyone and everything around us.  CRUSH your opponent.  WIN at any cost.

        I’ll bet bullies think they’re just out-competing everybody else.

  • Jeffrey

    I went to a workshop on Buling when I workedfor a public school. The speaker talked about a girl tha was bullied by a male student. This went on untill she graduated. She suied the school for not providing a safe learning enviroment. In her lawyers closing argument he brought the bully who was in jail clothes hand cuff and shackles. He said that not only did the schoolfail to protect the girl, but also fail to protect the bully by allowing him to believe his behavior was an exceptal behavior. So what do bullies learn when they are allowed to be a bullies?

    • Montgomery Draxel

      Give me a bully and I’ll show you a person with a broken home.

  • Guest

    Kick the bully out of the public school and make the bully and the parents attend mandatory classes until the bad behavior is cured. Otherwise, the bully will spend their life in a prison.
    The primary purpose is to protect children from bullies. This must stop! No excuses for these misfits.

  • Smell the BS

    What a preposterous voice.

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