Bullying Is Front and Centre, and Clear-Eyed Assessment Can Help Parents, Professionals

Article excerpt

Yale law professor, essayist and magazine editor Emily Bazelon's revealing book on bullying is based on two years of in-depth research she conducted for a series of articles published in the online journal Slate.

It is a clear-eyed, analytical assessment of bullying, its modern manifestations and the educational and legal systems' responses to the problem.

Bazelon conveys the issue's complexities intelligently and in an accessible, straightforward style. It is a near perfect book for concerned parents and for professionals looking for fresh answers.

Bullying is the curse of childhood, and any child who has ever been physically, emotionally or verbally bullied knows that the old saw "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me" is a crock.

Parents are rightly concerned about in-school bullying and the creeping tentacles of 24/7 cyber-bullying. Over-heated media reports attribute tragic youth suicides to cyber-bullying ("bullycide") and leave listeners, viewers and readers with the impression that we are in a crisis situation.

However, Bazelon contends that the percentages of children being bullied and those who bully have not changed over time. Yes, she acknowledges, it is a serious problem, but schoolyard bullies and Facebook slanders are not signs of a coming bully apocalypse.

And what about the bully? How are they affected by their behaviour? Psychologists, Bazelon tells us, have learned that children who engage in bullying are more likely to develop psychological problems in adulthood. Consequently, bullying must be seen as is a multi-pronged social problem.

Bullying is front and centre in Manitoba today. The provincial NDP government, responding to the legislative paths taken by other Canadian provinces and U.S. states, is broadening the definition of bullying and adding protections in the public schools for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered (GLBT) persons.

Bazelon discusses in depth the American legislation on bullying and culture-war disputes on GLBT rights and school obligations. In the U.S., as in Canada, various faith-based schools and community interest groups contend that gay-rights protections infringe on religious values, while public school educators generally contend the right to safe schools overrides other considerations.

Manitoba's proposed bill redefines bullying as "typically, but need not be, repeated behaviour." Along with many American and Canadian academics, Bazelon believes this is too vague and will create unmanageable disciplinary issues for schools. As well, students might unjustifiably be labelled as bullies, leading to unwarranted sanctions and social stigmatization.

Bazelon is not blind to the anguish teenage victims suffer at the hands of bullies, the helpless feelings of parents and inadequate responses of the school system. …