Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy - by Emily Bazelon (2013)

Reviewed by: George Marx, October 16, 2013

Reading this helped me better understand bullying in various ways.   While at times I questioned the author’s conclusions, she helped me recognize the complexity of the issues and helped teach me a lot.    As I was finishing reading the book, I heard on television of the arrest in Florida of several teenage girls who allegedly ridiculed a classmate on Facebook after her suicide which had followed significantly bullying. 

Listening to this brief major media story, my reaction was significantly different from what it would have been before I read the book.   Before reading the book I would have presumed that: 1.) bullying caused the death, 2.) the girls who had been alleged to have bullied this girl were clearly at fault, 3.) the parents and high school had failed to do what they should have done, 4.) serious punitive measures should be taken against those who caused this tragic death, and 5.) hopefully others will learn from this tragedy and do more to prevent similar deaths in the future.

Now, I’d want to know more before I made most significant conclusions.   I wouldn’t immediately dismiss the denials of a parent who said that her daughter didn’t send the hateful messages (that her social media account had been hacked), though I’d still wonder if the mother was in denial.

I realize now that depression in the victim as well as how she may have been socially weak amongst peers may have important factors in what happened.   I could imagine that what transpired could have been clearly vicious and horrible.  It could also have been tragic, but understandable.  Perhaps it was somewhat different from either of these extremes.

Did this girl have at least one concerned parent who tried, but ultimately failed, in helping her daughter?   Who were the alleged perpetrators?   Did they have serious issues themselves or were they amoral, hurtful teenagers (not likely, but possible)?

I’m troubled by the significance of social media in helping allow (at least) significant ridicule to hurt many, with seemingly limited accountability, despite the pressures exerted upon them.   I see quandaries that middle and high schools face in both not policing their students, yet facing issues as to if and how to intervene particularly related to postings on Facebook.

Parents, schools and the police all face difficult issues in trying to help teenagers successfully grow up.   Where there is ignorance and denial related to homophobia and sexism, the issues can be greatly exacerbated.   

Where there are significant power differentials between a victim and others, there is significant potential for bullying.   This can occur, for example, where the victim is or appears to be gay/lesbian or has physical or mental impairments.    In such situations, mediation between victim and alleged bullies is not a good idea. 
In other instances, the issues may be complex in other ways.   Some who are seriously hurt may, for example, have major depression issues, but have done things to others which seemingly makes the “innocent victim” label problematic.    The author gives one example of a girl who committed suicide after she’d gotten in the middle of relationships between other couples.

In the end things can be so complex because teenagers lives are complex and include “drama” as a normal part of growing up.   While it is easy to try to label individuals as “bullies” and try to hold them accountable in punitive ways, the realities of dealing fairly with the issues are much more difficult.

Sticks and Stones does a good job at helping expose one to the issues!   I find it difficult to succinctly describe this book.

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