Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy

Advance praise for Sticks and Stones

“This authoritative and important book should not only be read by educators and parents alike, but should also be taught in law schools and journalism schools, should either survive.” –John Schwartz, New York Times

“Bullying isn’t new. But our attempts to respond to it are, as Bazelon explains in her richly detailed, thought-provoking book. . . .Comprehensive in her reporting and balanced in her conclusions, Bazelon extracts from these stories useful lessons for young people, parents and principals alike.” –Washington Post

“...a humane and closely reported exploration of the way that hurtful power relationships play out in the contemporary public-school setting. As a parent herself, she brings clear, kind analysis to complex and upsetting circumstances.” –Wall Street Journal

“In “Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy," journalist and editor Emily Bazelon brings a sure hand and investigative heft to her exploration of bullying, which, in the era of social media, includes both digital and old-fashioned physical cruelty.” –Los Angeles Times

“Bazelon’s well-timed study of bullying is exactly the sort of thing an editor would’ve ordered up in the past couple of months, and she probably could’ve gotten away with turning in a rush job. But this is far more substantial: Bazelon — in part while reporting a long series of stories for Slate — logged a huge amount of time with three kids whose lives had been upended by schoolroom torturers, and we spend a lot of time seeing the complexity of their school and home lives. She does not stint on the psychological literature, but the result never feels dense with studies; it’s immersive storytelling with a sturdy base of science underneath, and draws its authority and power from both.” –New York Magazine

“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

“Bullying is misunderstood. Not all conflict between kids is bullying. It isn’t always clear who is the bully and who is the victim. Not all — or even most — kids are involved in bullying. And bullying isn’t the only factor in a child’s suicide, ever. Emily Bazelon, who wrote about the subject for Slate in 2010, here expands her reporting in an important, provocative book about what we can — and can’t — do about the problem.” –Boston Globe

“She is nonjudgmental in a generous rather than simply neutral way, and she culls as much pathos from the circumstances of bullies as from those of their victims. She identifies not only the sadism of abusive children, but also their sadness. She is a compassionate champion for justice in the domain of childhood’s essential unfairness.” –Andrew Solomon, The New York Times

“By the book’s end, Bazelon had won me over to the idea that so long as we don’t use the concept of bullying to foreclose discussion of other problems, so long as we think not just about individual bullies but about social climate change, this too might join other public revolutions in how we view formerly privatized cruelties like sexual harassment and child abuse. Bazelon closes by calling for a newfound focus on teaching character, empathy, and respect. No matter what the latest concept of cruelty, isn’t that always the lesson?” –E.J. Graff, The American Prospect

“Emily Bazelon, a senior editor at Slate, has written a series of stories about cyber-bullying over the past few years, including the award-winning three-part investigative piece about the death of Phoebe Prince, the fifteen-year-old girl who committed suicide in January of 2010, and the criminal prosecution of six teen-agers in connection with her death. In her scrupulously researched “Sticks and Stones,” Bazelon continues to cut through the sensationalism that often surrounds reports about bullying. She explores different facets of the problem through the stories of people who’ve been involved first-hand, and makes a case for what can be done to limit meanness and abuse among young people in an age when the problem isn’t just confined to schools but is also “on our computer screens and phones for all to see.” –The New Yorker

“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, bestselling author of The Blessing of a Skinned Knee

“Emily Bazelon has become a leader in the discussion about how we should address bullying. Her book, Sticks and Stones, approaches the topic with an uncommon thoughtfulness and sobriety. She shows little interest in oversimplifying the problem and applies lawyerly and journalistic skepticism to a topic that badly needs clear, careful thinking.  ” –Greg Lukianoff, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

“A nuanced approach to the epidemic of bullying in American schools… Bazelon surveys promising new approaches to dealing with bullying, and the appendix includes fact sheets and a resource guide. A convincing case against media hype and a premature rush to judgment.” –Kirkus

“This very perceptive and accessible work on a topic of increasing relevance is a must-read for any teacher, administrator, or after-school provider for teens and tweens.” –Booklist

“Bazelon’s book is eminently readable; her research is thorough and even-handed; and her approach to a complicated, fraught issue is appropriately complex and multi-layered.” –Committee for Children

“Emily Bazelon is a voice of authority on bullying… An antidote to the media frenzy surrounding this now heated issue, Bazelon’s even-handed, thorough, and affecting narrative provides insights and information about the kids, parents, educators, and courts dealing with psychological and physical bullying in schools, as well as insidious cyberbullying… Masterfully written, [this] book will increase understanding, awareness, and action.” –Publisher's Weekly, starred review

“...Bazelon’s book is well-researched and even-handed, recognizing that much of the hue and cry against modern American bullies stems from media-driven sensationalism. Bullying itself, she notes, is not actually on the rise. But modern technology can certainly make it worse, expanding schoolyard teasing into 24/7 torture.” –Heather Wilhelm, Real Clear Politics

“In the era of social media, when taunts and bullying can become more insidious and damaging, Bazelon thoughtfully urges a fresh consideration of the nature and definition of bullying... In a courageous conclusion—courageous because it is idealistic and contrary to popular opinion—Bazelon advocates overcoming bullying by instilling character and empathy in our children, teaching them to see that people’s feelings are more important than status and that kindness should be a value that overrides all others.” –Bookpage.com

“Bazelon's deep discussion provides a solid foundation for everyone to understand this subject better and offers valuable guidance to parents, as well as those involved in setting policies. Her style is easy to read, and she doggedly pursues realistic answers...she goes beyond the research and policy issues to offer helpful guidelines for parents and teens. Sticks and Stones ranks far above other books on this topic.” –Story Circle Book Reviews

“Accessibility and balance make this an outstanding study of the complexities of adolescent bullying.” –Audiofile Magazine

About the Book

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.