Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy

Author: Emily Bazelon
Pages: 319
Rating: PG-13 only because she talks about suicide some and also some of the narrative from middle and high school students includes foul language.

Summary: Being a teenager has never been easy, but in recent years, with the rise of the Internet and social media, it has become exponentially more challenging. Bullying, once thought of as the province of queen bees and goons, has taken on new, complex, and insidious forms, as parents and educators know all too well.

No writer is better poised to explore this territory than Emily Bazelon, who has established herself as a leading voice on the social and legal aspects of teenage drama. In Sticks and Stones,she brings readers on a deeply researched, clear-eyed journey into the ever-shifting landscape of teenage meanness and its sometimes devastating consequences. The result is an indispensable book that takes us from school cafeterias to courtrooms to the offices of Facebook, the website where so much teenage life, good and bad, now unfolds.

Along the way, Bazelon defines what bullying is and, just as important, what it is not. She explores when intervention is essential and when kids should be given the freedom to fend for themselves. She also dispels 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, and that harsh criminal penalties are an effective deterrent. Above all, she believes that to deal with the problem, we must first understand it.

Blending keen journalistic and narrative skills, Bazelon explores different facets of bullying through the stories of three young people who found themselves caught in the thick of it. Thirteen-year-old Monique endured months of harassment and exclusion before her mother finally pulled her out of school. Jacob was threatened and physically attacked over his sexuality in eighth grade—and then sued to protect himself and change the culture of his school. Flannery was one of six teens who faced criminal charges after a fellow student’s suicide was blamed on bullying and made international headlines. With grace and authority, Bazelon chronicles how these kids’ predicaments escalated, to no one’s benefit, into community-wide wars. Cutting through the noise, misinformation, and sensationalism, she takes us into schools that have succeeded in reducing bullying and examines their successful strategies. The result is a groundbreaking book that will help parents, educators, and teens themselves better understand what kids are going through today and what can be done to help them through it.

My Thoughts:
I feel like the summary up there did its job well. I thought the book was really informative and interesting, particulary the first two parts where Bazelon chronicles the bullying experiences of Monique, Jacob, and Flannery. Bullying is indeed much more complicated than we sometimes think it is. Often, kids don't even realize that what they are doing IS bullying, as was the case with Monique's tormentors. They called it "drama." Other times, the bullying becomes a problem because the victim has depression or other problems that make the effects of bullying worse. Their tormentors don't realize how weak their victim is, and therefore, push them over the edge without meaning to. It becomes a problem when the "bullies" see their victim as an equal and so they don't consider what they are doing to be bullying. However, the victim may not see the relationship the same way.

Bazelon warns us of blaming every teen suicide on bullying. Often, even though bullying was involved, there were many other factors contributing to the suicide, and it is not fair to blame it solely on bullies. I just thought the entire exploration was really fascinating, and helped me to look at bullying in a new way. There are also solutions and study results listed in the back of the book. I was pleased to see that the school I work at implements one of the most highly recommended bully-prevention programs. I still think we could stand to improve a little, but what school is perfect?

I don't really recall ever being bullied or bullying anyone myself, or even being aware that bullying was happening at my school when I was a kid, but maybe I'm just a head-in-the-clouds type of person and it all just flew right over my head. I remember certain kids that I may have made fun of once or twice, or being made fun of once or twice myself, but never to an extent that it could be called bullying. The online world definitely extends the reach of bullies today, which makes it all the more important for parents to monitor their child's online activities. It's also important to be aware of what is and is not considered bullying, although the book makes clear that if it's mean, an adult should do something about it, whether its bullying or not. We should not allow bad treatment of others to escalate into bullying.

I highly recommend this book to anyone with teenagers, or who is in the teaching profession. It was very enlightening, especially since I don't have a lot of experience with bullying personally.