Emily Bazelon: The first story that interested me wasn’t about a teenage bully. It was about Lori Drew, the mother accused of starting a fake Facebook account, for a boy named “Josh,” to bait a friend of her daughter’s named Megan Meier. After “Josh” turned on Megan and told her the world would be a better place without her, she hanged herself in her bedroom. It’s not clear who wrote that disturbing message, since multiple people had access to the account Drew created. But the story suggested to me that cyberbullying could put kids at risk from people they know. Most of the time, thankfully, there’s no link between cruelty online and suicide. Most kids are resilient. But I wanted to think through the effect their virtual lives have on their real ones.
EB: I was surprised to learn that the majority of kids say that when they report bullying at school, the situation worsened for them, according to studies. That suggests we have a ways to go. On the up side, I learned that when kids discover that bullying isn’t the norm — everyone doesn’t do it — they respond positively. Bullying drops, and students become more active about reporting it.
EB: I think stories are the best way to explore the real-life facets of a problem, and make people feel and understand what kids are experiencing. They bring abstract concepts and research-based findings down to earth. I looked for stories that would allow me to discuss issues like the movement of bullying from school to the Internet and back, harassment based on sexuality and gender, and the problem (in my view) of ratcheting up the punishment of kids who are accused of bullying by bringing criminal charges against them.
EB: To me the key thing is to help kids learn empathy. Many of the books and programs I discuss have that goal. One conversation starter I’ve found to be a great tool with my own kids is R.J. Palacio’s book Wonder, about a boy with a serious birth defect, which has left his face misshapen, yet he makes the transition from homeschool to regular school. I’m also a big fan of Gay-Straight Alliances, which are a proven buffer against harassment of LGBT kids.
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