Originally posted on National Post | News:
In the emotionally charged dialogue about bullying that has grabbed headlines and changed laws in recent years, Emily Bazelon has emerged as a rare voice of reason. And so, of course, she’s often accused of victim blaming — the inevitable cost of studying a complex problem to find it’s not the tidy narrative we all crave. Last spring, the Slate.com editor and contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine criticized the makers of popular documentary Bully for failing to paint a true picture of what drives bullied teens to suicide. She also drew fire for saying it was misguided for prosecutors to criminally charge six teenagers who bullied Phoebe Prince before the Massachussetts student took her own life in 2010. In her new book Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy, Ms. Bazelon unearths the nuances of bullying through the stories of three teenagers and offers careful solutions to a problem that has harnessed the public’s attention and may soon be at risk of losing it. She spoke with the Post’s Sarah Boesveld in Toronto.
Q: You say we often misidentify run-of-the-mill adolescent animosity as bullying. Why?
A: I think most conflict among kids and teenagers and adults is two-way and really is not bullying when you think of bullying as repeated physical or verbal abuse that involves a power imbalance. Those elements involve really like a campaign to make someone miserable, and that’s really different from kids having a fight. There are a few problems with the overbroad conception of bullying: One is that it starts to seem totally hopeless. Of course we can’t solve this problem because it’s just aggression — which is true, because we need aggression in society and kids need to learn how to fight. And so when the bullying prevention message gets twisted into the idea that kids have to be nice to each other all the time that’s just not attainable. The other thing is that it’s a stigmatizing label for kids to be called a bully. And so we need to be careful before we apply it. Also, the problem of crying wolf is a real one too. If you claim that your kid is being bullied and then it turns out that actually what’s happening is more mutual, that’s not good.