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.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.62(w) x 9.32(h) x 1.30(d)|
About the Author
Emily Bazelon is a senior editor at Slate, a contributing writer at The New York Times Magazine, and the Truman Capote Fellow at Yale Law School. Before joining Slate, she worked as a law clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. She is a graduate of Yale College and Yale Law School, and lives in New Haven with her husband and two sons. This is her first book.
Read an Excerpt
Monique McClain wanted a new hairstyle for the first week of seventh grade.
She got the idea from her mother, Alycia, who had her long dark hair done up in a sweep over the summer, so that it lay braided smooth on one side of her head and fell in a cascade of curls down the other. Monique, who was thirteen, had her mother’s long dark hair and wanted the sweep for her first week at Woodrow Wilson Middle School in Middletown, Connecticut. She thought it would look grown-up.
A friend of Alycia’s who does hair came over and went to work on Monique. When she was finished and Monique’s hair was sleek and shiny, her mother snapped a photo of her daughter in profile, a stud earring in the shape of an M gleaming below the braids and a shy half smile on her face. She looked like a more glamorous version of her old jeans-and-ponytail self. Monique didn’t usually like to strut, but that morning she let her curls swing on the way to the bus stop. “I was excited to go to school,” she said. “I liked how my hair looked. It felt special.”
But Monique’s head was down when Alycia looked out of her fourth-floor apartment window that afternoon and saw her daughter walking home from the bus stop. Alycia called from the window to ask if the hairstyle had been a hit, and Monique said nothing, just shook her head. At the door she followed her mother’s rules by stopping to take off her sneakers, then came inside to tell what had happened: two eighth-grade girls on her bus, Destiny and Cheyenne, had mocked her for being a “biter”—a copycat. It turned out that Destiny’s cousin had gotten the same hairstyle the week before. Monique hadn’t known that. Still, in Destiny’s and Cheyenne’s eyes, she was a biter, and biters were fair game.
The older girls, who were known for being tough, kept at it the next day. They trailed Monique when she got off the bus, walking a few steps behind her and taunting her all the way down the street and onto the grounds of her apartment complex. Monique didn’t know why they cared so much about a hairstyle. She just wanted it to stop. She went to her room and called her friend Sonia. “The eighth graders are in my face on the bus and I can’t take it,” she said. Sonia didn’t ride Monique’s bus; none of her friends did. She had no one to sit with, no one who could be a buffer against Destiny and Cheyenne.
Listening, Alycia felt bad for Monique, but she figured it would blow over. It was just girls being rude; it was just a hairstyle. They’d forget the whole thing by morning. Wouldn’t they?
But the next afternoon, Monique’s head was hanging again: Destiny and Cheyenne had taunted her for being a biter on the way to school and on the way home. Alycia walked Monique to the bus stop in the morning, stayed to make sure Destiny and Cheyenne didn’t bother her, and at noon headed to Woodrow Wilson to report that her daughter was being bullied. Alycia met with a Middletown police detective who was stationed at the middle school. He called in Monique and assistant principal Diane Niles. Niles told Monique that if the girls made fun of her again on the way home, the school would take action. Principal Charles Marqua came in for a few minutes and also assured Alycia the school would not stand for this kind of behavior. “They said they would handle it,” she told me later. “That they would not tolerate those girls going after Monique like that.”
And so when Alycia met Monique at the bus stop later that afternoon, she expected to hear that the ride had gone smoothly. But Monique was blank-faced and silent. When the other kids streamed away down the street, she mumbled to her mother in a low voice that the eighth graders were now calling her a snitch as well as a biter. No one—not one kid—was sticking up for her. Alycia called the police on her cell phone to make a harassment complaint. She also called Niles, handing the phone to Monique right there on the sidewalk so she could describe how the bus ride had been worse, not better, than the day before.
Niles listened sympathetically and said she would call Destiny’s and Cheyenne’s parents. But later she called Alycia back to say she hadn’t reached the girls’ parents, which meant she couldn’t tell them to stay off the bus. Niles suggested that Alycia drive Monique to school the next day. Alycia, who is a home health aide trained to care for disabled patients, was working the night shift. She asked her mother, Alexa, to drive Monique in the morning. But this didn’t strike Alycia as a viable long-term solution, since Alexa lived a few miles away and Alycia usually borrowed her car to get to work. And why should Monique be the one forced off the bus?
Niles told Destiny and Cheyenne to sit away from Monique on the way home that day and from then on. Over the next several days, the girls didn’t do as they were told. Some afternoons they got off at the same stop as Monique and followed her home, yelling insults along the way. Smoking cigarettes at the bus stop, they blew smoke in Monique’s face.
During the last week in September, principal Charles Marqua boarded the bus in the afternoon before it left school and admonished Destiny and Cheyenne to sit in the back, away from Monique. Marqua was new to the school. He hadn’t had time to establish his authority, and Destiny and Cheyenne decided to test it. Telling Marqua that only her mother could tell her where to sit, Cheyenne turned her back on him and walked down the aisle. Marqua told her to behave and got off the bus. As soon as it left Woodrow Wilson and rounded the corner, the girls moved to seats right behind Monique, cursing her for snitching, and then shadowed her on the walk home from the bus stop. “We don’t totally control the bus,” Marqua would tell me later. “We can only do so much.”
Monique didn’t know what to do or where to turn. Over the weekend, she did her best to shake off the dread she felt about riding the bus. She saw her friend Sonia and a couple of other girls, and tried to make sure that the bullying didn’t infect the rest of her life. “My friends weren’t jumping into it,” she said, talking about the trouble she was having with Destiny and Cheyenne. “I always had a lot of different friends at school. I never had a problem like this before.” In fact, Monique had thrived in school, doing well in math and reading and in fifth grade even winning an academic achievement award. Signed by President Obama, it hung on a wall in her grandmother’s apartment next to the invitation Alexa, a devoted Obama supporter, had gotten to the president’s inauguration.
Alycia and Alexa went back to Woodrow Wilson repeatedly in September to press Niles about why Destiny and Cheyenne had been allowed to keep riding the bus and to keep sitting near Monique. Alycia suggested that the girls be suspended from the bus for a month. Niles finally said she would tell them to stay off the bus. But when they didn’t listen to her and went to the bus stop anyway, it turned out that for liability reasons, the bus drivers had orders to let on any kids waiting at the bus stop. Destiny and Cheyenne kept riding and sitting where they pleased.
At last, at the end of September, the girls got a one-day in-school suspension, which they were supposed to spend in a supervised study hall, isolated from the other students. But in the afternoon, Destiny saw Monique walking by on her way to science class, and from the doorway, hissed, “You think ISS”—in-school suspension—“is gonna stop me?”
Back on the bus, Destiny and Cheyenne tried to provoke a showdown. Instead of sitting apart from Monique as they’d again been told to do, they stood in the aisle, berating her, as a bunch of eighth-grade boys started calling, “Fight, fight, fight!” Monique kept her face turned toward the window, putting every bit of will she had into stopping herself from crying. When the bus driver told them to sit down, Destiny and Cheyenne moved to the back and threw pens and food at Monique, persuading a few other kids to join in.
All of this behavior broke the rules for riding the bus. At the time, though, Connecticut didn’t officially require schools to address bullying on the bus or at a bus stop (the law changed the following year). The administrators at Woodrow Wilson tried to help Monique, but their half measures were no match for Destiny and Cheyenne’s determined meanness. At the end of September, assistant principal Niles returned the bullying complaint form that Alycia had filed weeks earlier, checking off the box saying she’d investigated the case and found that Monique was in fact the target of threats and intimidation. She recommended a mediation meeting between Monique, Destiny, and Cheyenne.
Niles meant well, but sitting all three girls down together was likely to backfire. Mediation works well when kids of equal status are having a two-way conflict, not as an antidote to bullying. Putting a victim and her bullies in a room together and asking them to make up doesn’t recognize the power differential between them. Kids who bully are good at manipulating this kind of setting: they often say what adults want to hear in the moment, then retaliate later. One review of anti-bullying programs found that programs that urged peer mediation were associated with more victimization, not less. And if intervention isn’t skillful, bullies can use it to their own destructive ends. No one had to tell Alycia this. “I said absolutely not,” she told me. “It was common sense. You don’t stick a child who’s been bullied in a room with all these girls and expect any real change. There’ll be all this fronting and pretending and then they’d walk out and say she’s a snitch again.” The day after Niles finished her investigation, Cheyenne blew smoke in Monique’s face at the bus stop again.
After a full month of bullying, Alycia was worried about her daughter. Monique was turning inward, losing weight, and sleeping for long stretches—signs, her mother and grandmother feared, that she was depressed. When I met Monique that spring, it was hard for her to talk about the previous fall. Monique had a composed steadiness and could flash a high-wattage smile when she was pleased, but she shut down when I asked her to tell me about her experience at Woodrow Wilson. Her eyes dulled and her voice flattened. She said she didn’t remember much. She avoided saying Destiny’s and Cheyenne’s names. “Yeah, I was crying a lot,” she said, staring at the floor of her living room. “Not in front of anyone, but coming home, talking to my mom, thinking about it. At school I didn’t go to the second floor where the eighth-grade classes are. I tried to stay away from them, but it didn’t work.” At that point, Alycia and Alexa took over telling the story, and Monique got up, went to her bedroom, and closed the door.
Thinking that an activity outside school might help, Alycia signed up Monique for a local boxing program. Monique liked it at first, but then she started to feel excluded because one of the girls on the team was turning the others against her. That girl was Brianna, the cousin of Destiny whose hairstyle Monique been accused of imitating at the beginning of all the heartache. On one bad afternoon, Monique was drinking water when Alycia came to pick her up. A younger girl on the team whom Monique knew well playfully tapped the bottom of the cup Monique was holding, spilling water on her chin. Monique asked the girl to stop. She did it again. Monique threw the cup down and screamed, “Leave me alone!” She ran out of the gym, and by the time Alycia caught up with her, Monique was doubled over by their locked car, sobbing. “Why does everyone keep messing with me?” she asked, over and over. “I just want everyone to leave me alone!” Alycia had never seen Monique break down like that. She realized how much her daughter was holding inside, behind her blank expression and affectless speech. The next day she took Monique to see a therapist.
Alarmed, Alycia now tried everything else she could think of to stop the bullying at school. She called the mother of Monique’s friend Sonia to ask if Sonia would be willing to ride the bus with Monique and sit next to her. That helped for a day or two, but then Destiny and Cheyenne complained to the bus driver that Sonia didn’t belong on this bus, snapping a picture of her so they could prove Sonia had to go back to her own bus. Alycia tried calling the police the next day to report Destiny and Cheyenne for harassing Monique on the way home. An officer came to the house and took down the complaint but said there was nothing he could do: the girls hadn’t broken any laws.
Alycia didn’t know Destiny’s and Cheyenne’s parents, but she had a friend who knew Cheyenne’s mother, and he offered to broker a meeting. “He said, ‘We’re going to solve this,’ ” Alycia remembered. She drove to Cheyenne’s house, and her mother came over to the car. But she quickly got defensive, said her daughter had done nothing wrong, and threatened to have Monique suspended from the bus.
Sick with frustration, Alycia turned away. Monique would be waiting for her at home, hoping for relief, and she had none to offer.
Why do strong kids like Destiny and Cheyenne go after weaker kids like Monique?
I started asking myself this question soon after I met Monique. It also happens to be the starting point for the first research ever done on bullying, more than forty years ago. A Swedish graduate student named Dan Olweus had just finished his PhD in psychology in 1969 when he decided to study aggression and victimization among boys. At the time, few adults considered meanness among kids to be a subject worthy of academic attention, but Olweus shuttled from school to school in Stockholm and the town of Solna, asking one thousand sixth- and eighth-grade boys to tell him which of their peers started fights or teased other kids, and which kids were targets. Uncertain about the reliability of the boys’ answers, he checked their responses against the impressions of their mothers and teachers. He then asked what aggressors and targets looked like: How did they talk and behave? Were they physically strong or weak? He gave the boys Rorschach-like psychological tests, and went into their homes to gather information about social status and child-rearing practices. How much education and money did the boys’ parents have? How strictly did they discipline their children? Finally, Olweus collected data on the school setting and climate. Did the size of a school or a class matter? Did students’ attitudes toward their teachers and their schoolwork?
Table of Contents
Part I Trouble 19
Chapter 1 Monique 21
Chapter 2 Jacob 57
Chapter 3 Flannery 82
Part II Escalation 113
Chapter 4 Monique 115
Chapter 5 Jacob 143
Chapter 6 Flannery 167
Part III Solutions 193
Chapter 7 Freedom 195
Chapter 8 Old Mill 228
Chapter 9 Delete Day 256
Part IV What Next? 295
Discussion Guide for Classroom Use and Book Groups 309
Frequently Asked Questions About Bullying 313
Resources for Readers 325
Cast of Characters 337
What People are Saying About This
Thoughtful and moving, incisive and provocative, Sticks and Stones is essential reading for any educator trying to negotiate the minefield of bullying. Packed with valuable advice, the book brings a welcome dose of sanity to an often overheated national discussion.— Paul Tough, bestselling author of How Children Succeed
Advance praise for Sticks and Stones
“Thoughtful and moving, incisive and provocative, Sticks and Stones is essential reading for any educator trying to negotiate the minefield of bullying. Packed with valuable advice, the book brings a welcome dose of sanity to an often overheated national discussion.”—Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed
“Beautifully written and tenaciously reported, Sticks and Stones is a serious, important book that reads like a page-turner. Emily Bazelon is a gifted writer, and this powerful work is sure to place childhood bullying at the heart of the national conversation—right where it belongs.”—Susan Cain, author of Quiet
“Emily Bazelon is doing the most honest, hard-hitting investigative work on bullying in America today. Sticks and Stones is a page-turner, combining compelling personal stories, rigorous reporting and practical advice for parents and educators. Read it: It’s essential.”—Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out
“Finally! In remarkably clear and friendly prose, Emily Bazelon dives into a difficult, complex topic and emerges with a wise, deeply nuanced, and practical guide to a subject that has us all confused.”—Wendy Mogel, Ph.D, author of The Blessing of a Skinned Knee
Finally! In remarkably clear and friendly prose, Emily Bazelon dives into a difficult, complex topic and emerges with a wise, deeply nuanced, and practical guide to a subject that has us all confused.— Wendy Mogel, Ph.D, bestselling author of The Blessing of a Skinned Kne
Beautifully written and tenaciously reported, Sticks and Stones is a serious, important book that reads like a page-turner. Emily Bazelon is a gifted writer, and this powerful work is sure to place childhood bullying at the heart of the national conversation — right where it belongs.
— Susan Cain, bestselling author of Quiet
Emily Bazelon is doing the most honest, hard-hitting investigative work on bullying in America today. Sticks and Stones is a page-turner, combining compelling personal stories, rigorous reporting and practical advice for parents and educators. Read it: it's essential.— Rachel Simmons, bestselling author of Odd Girl Out
A Conversation with Emily Bazelon
Q. It seems like every week, there is a bullying story in the news. Has bullying become more prevalent?
Bullying isn't really on the rise, according to the studies that have tracked it over the past 25 years. But bullying does feel more pervasive for a lot of kids because it extends to the Web, which they can access 24/7. When it moves online, bullying is more constant, visible, and viral.
Q. What is bullying, exactly? Is there an official definition?
Yesbullying is verbal or physical aggression that occurs repeatedly and involves a power differentialone or more children lording their status over another.
Q. How did you get interested in the topic?
When I was in 8th grade, my group of friends fired me, which I can say drily now, but at the time was immensely painful. Then I made a new friend, and when she was being bullied, I had the chance to help her by standing up to her tormenters, and I didn't. I've thought a lot about my own cowardice and it makes me want to figure out how to help other kids do better.
Q. So what's the answerwhat can young people do to deal with bullying when they see it happen?
If you see other kids being cruel, think about the steps you could realistically take to stop it. You don't have to jump into the middle of a fight (though if you're up for that, don't let me stop you!), and you don't have to commit to befriending the person you're helping. Sometimes just sending a sympathetic text or asking someone if she or he is okay means a lot.
Q. What do you say to adults who say bullying is just "kids being kids"?
It's not! The vast majority of kids do not bully. And bullying can do serious damage. This is not a problem to be shrugged offthat's just nuts.
Q. OK, but at the same time, is much of what gets talked about as bullying in the media in fact better described as general meanness or conflict?
Yes. The definition above is helpful because it makes clear that two-way, mutual conflict is not bullying. At the same time, when bullying is going on, it's a form of mistreatment that links up with serious outcomes, like low academic performance. That's true for both bullies and targets. So, the bullying label is one we should use sparingly, because when it applies, it has real significance.
Q. What are your thoughts on the media portrayal of cases where young people are "bullied to death"the "bullycide" phenomenon?
It worries me. In some cases bullying precedes suicide, no question. But the idea that a teenager's decision to take his own life can be blamed entirely on another teenagerthat is often a big oversimplification. Often, there are more layers to unpack, and a history of mental health troubles to address. But the facts get drowned out in the finger pointing, and then we wind up with responses that don't fit the real problems at hand.
Q. Can empathy be taught? If true bullies lack it, what can be done to instill it?
Yes, thank goodness, empathy and character building can be taught! This is a key insight at the heart of every good bullying prevention effort. Lasting inability to feel empathy, luckily, is exceedingly rare. Most kids do feel or can learn to feel empathy and remorse. It's our job to help them find that capacity within themselves, and build on it.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Excellent, well-researched, and well-written book on an extremely timely topic. The author tells a compelling narrative, weaving in a ton of interesting sociological and psychological research. I would definitely recommend for parents, kids, teachers, and counselors - anything thinking about or struggling with the issue of bullying today. Don't write the book off if you don't fall into one of those categories, though - it has a lot to say about growing up in general, and I think would be interesting for anyone who appreciates well-researched, narrative nonfiction..
The book is written by a journalist, Emily Bazelon, who is very passionate about the issues of bullying in American schools. She makes her own research into the three different stories of teenagers who became the victims of bullying. In the first story about Monique, Bazelon tries to draw attention to the negligence of adults, namely, the school and local district authorities of the fate of a seventh-grader who suffers from systematic assults from her peers. The second part of the book tells the story of a homosexual boy, Jabob. Bazelon focuses on the cruelty of school children towards children who don`t conform to the “normal” definition of gendder. In this chapter, the author also brings up another incident of the LGBT bullying that turned out to initiate the anti-bulling law that has been adopted by most states. The last chapter looks into the story of Phoebe, the victim of a notorious bullying case of a teenager who commited suicide arguably as a result of bullying. Here Bazelon discusses the most contradictory topics of suicide as a cause of bullying, the relevancy of court decisions and the gravity of cyberbullying. Moreover, Bazelon meets the Facebook employees to find out what social networks do to prevent bullying. Overall, the book is a very valuable source of different aspects and perspectives on bullying.
As a foreign student from Malaysia, I think that this book really helps me to know more about bullying here in the United States. Besides that, I’m a teacher-to-be and this book gives me a lot of information about bullying that might help me in the future. It is interesting because it has so many real scenarios as the references. It has the real dialogues of what was happening in the social environment which students faced almost every day. In fact it is happening 24/7 with the cyber-bullying having mean words and videos that will spread easily and stay on the internet. I think that everyone should read this book especially people who are handling children in the present or in the future. The first three chapters about Monique, Jacob and Phoebe are fascinating. All of the three were true stories and make me want to know more about these three people and what happened to them after the tragedy. Bullying may sound worthless nowadays but we want to make a safe environment for students to study. Who likes being kicked, called names, and punched or any other bullying actions? No one! So first, take a simple step. Read this book!
I read this book because one of my courses used the book as a text book for the class. Before I read this book, I thought it would be boring. After a few chapters, my perception about this book changed; this is not the typical book about bullying. I know about bullying in my country, Malaysia, but I don’t know much about bullying in America. The title of the book also brought a heavy meaning and if I didn’t read the description below the title, I wouldn’t know if this book tells about bullying. Throughout the reading, I was so surprised with the story that the writer got. There was three stories in the book which one is a young girl who get bullied in eigth grade, a boy who is bullied because he is gay and the last one that very tragic case is a suicide of Phoebe Prince. These three cases really opened my eyes about bullying and how bad it can be. All these cases happened in school which is supposed to be one of the safest place for children. Emily Bazelon put three strong example that shows bullying is a very bad and unacceptable problem.
Much needed insight and perspective. This is such a complex and difficult topic where the answers are never as simple as one might hope.
Emily Bazelon has made a career of churning out very highly biased and poorly researched material. Her coverage of the Phoebe Prince case in South Hadley, Massachusetts bordered on slander and harassment. It is astonishing that Bazelon isn't facing HIPAA charges for spilling out stolen medical records onto the internet. To further elaborate on this point, unless the permission of the parents is given it is unlawful to print private medical data. Bazelon gleefully printed it regardless. She received said medical data from someone inside the school who had access to Pheoebe's records. If this was not bad enough she boasted about it in later articles. Emily Bazelon's modus operandi is to begin a project with the conclusion already decided and then selectively choose certain facts and then weave a story around then to meet the facts. Here's an example, Bazelon, in her first article on the Prince case referred to Sean Mulveyhill, one of the formerly accused bullies, as a "tragic hero" while simultaneously slandering Phoebe Prince using the kind of harsh pejorative and accusatory rhetoric only seen in confrontational political ads. As it has come to be known sometime later, Mr. Mulveyhill was the pricipal architect behind the cooperative bullying effort. There were also rumors that he had plied a victim with GHB. If Bazelon considers this guy to be a tragic hero then she obviously rewards cruelty. If you want an example of good journalism steer clear of anything written by Bazelon and read the works of Kevin Cullen for unbiased and complete journalism. The best use of this book would be to remove its pages and use them to house train your dog. The cover might make a good shim if you have a table with one of the leg shorter than the others..
Emily Bazelon is an unethical and onprofessional writer who fills her section about Phoebe Prince with not only biased and twisted fact but outright falsehoods. She ignored key aspects of the bullying campaign waged against Phoebe Prince to create a piece defending the kids who bullied Phoebe literally to death. She claims there was no "bullying." She apparently believes that physical assaults, verbal assaults, stalking via cell phone and text, and gang-raping Phoebe do not constitute bullying. Bazelon is as sociopathic and narcissistic as the kids who bullied Phoebe to death. Hey Emily, Phoebe was raped by these kids. Did you forget to talk about that. That's why she took an overdose of pills 6 weeks before she died.
Stick and Stones is a poorly researched book based on the author's opinions not the facts. What a dissappointment!