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Sticks and Stones: How to Deal with 21st Century Bullying

Sticks and StonesHere is my understatement of the week — it can be treacherous navigating waters of middle school, what with the bullying, drama and various cyber-issues to contend with today. I remember all too well what life was like as a seventh-grade girl, and all the potential pitfalls that went with that. But there was no spill-over of the meanness or the hurtful acts once I left school.  Those were, as my daughter would say, the “dinosaur days” — no computers, no cell phones, no smart phones. No texting or G-chatting or Skypeing. Heck, we were lucky if our parents let us use the wall phone!

Today, the bullying that we have come to accept as a rite of passage for middle school kids invades every part of their lives as a result of the technological age we live in.

So what’s a parent to do?

I recently had a chance to interview Slate Senior Editor Emily Bazelon about her new book on all of this, Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy.

I was curious about what prompted her to write this book. Sadly, bullying isn’t a new topic, and other popular books have addressed have analyzed have covered all that territory. But Bazelon, the mother of two sons, ages ten and 13, told me that there actually is new information we parents need to consider, especially in our age of living online and the way our kids communicate with each other today. For example, while boys tend to use their aggressive behavior in person, girls infamously use the tools of manipulation and exclusion — things that they can do effectively online. Consider that with the fact that teen girls send almost twice as many text messages in any given day as boys (girls average 90 texts per day while boys averaged 50) and in the world of middle school kids, 21st century technology and the fact that we increasingly live our lives online creates a toxic teen-age world, especially for those who are the targets of bullies.

Schools try to do their best to educate our children in the language of empathy and the pitfalls of online tools, in efforts to bring cyber-bullying under control. What becomes a real gray area is when children engage in cyber-bullying at home, but has an impact on children’s well-being in school. Often, administrators and teachers throw up their hands and say there is nothing they can do if behavior happens outside of school. However, Bazelon points out that if there is actual disruption at school as a result of the online bullying, parents can ask schools to step in.

What was surprising to Bazelon, an admitted skeptic about whether we’re experiencing an epidemic of bullying, was just how serious the problem is. New research provides evidence of the long-term psychological impact the new world of bullying has on our kids.

Bazelon sees a need for a new national movement, one that’s not so different from the one launched decades ago that so many of us see as a completely logical thing today — Mothers Against Drunk Driving. We need concrete strategies and mass media involvement to make that change.

While I’m not quite finished reading Sticks and Stones, I was struck by a simple fact that many of us discount:

“The depersonalized featured of technology can exacerbate cruelty,” even though the roots are in the real world, not the virtual one.

Does any of this resonate for you and your family experience? While it’s hard to separate our own teen experiences from those of our kids today, Sticks and Stones serves as a very important reminder and call to action — for parents and schools — that we can’t cling to the theory that kids have survived bullying since the dawn of time, so there’s no need to do anything differently in 2013.

Read more about the intersection of motherhood and politics at my place PunditMom, The Broad Side, and in my Amazon best-selling book, Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America (now available for your Kindle or Nook!)

Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, & Pinterest.

 Image via emilybazelon.com

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