New Trier speaker: Online exposure adds new depth to bullying
Author Emily Bazelon visits New Trier's Cornog Auditorium to discuss her new book titled "Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying with Character and Empathy." Joe Cyganowski-For Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 14, 2013 9:14AM
NORTHFIELD — When New Trier High School reopened the Northfield campus in 2001, hundreds of students from many feeder districts had the tough tasks of essentially starting over.
“As students set themselves in new groups there were moments where students felt they were bullied on our campus,” said Assistant Superintendent Tim Hayes. “We wanted to address that.”
In the campus’ second year after the reopening, the school partnered with the Anti-Defamation League and annually spends a full day discussing bullying and harassment with the new students.
“We talk to them about becoming an ally instead of a bystander,” Hayes said.
Sponsored by the Family Action Network and several area schools, the New Trier community welcomed Emily Bazelon to speak about her new book, ‘Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy.’
Bazelon shared her experiences visiting different schools in a variety of income levels and the role social media plays in present day bullying. She says kids posting online don’t receive the same cues of empathy that they normally would when facing a real person and that can be dangerous.
“Kids often feel like kids who are mean to them in school are continuing to gossip about them online,” Bazelon said. “It gives the feeling of 24/7 inescapable bullying. It’s becoming increasingly common for most kids to do their socializing by social networking or texting.”
Bazelon recommends limiting children’s exposure to such technology at an early age to ease them into social media and smart phones. She shared her own experience of buying a phone for her 13-year-old son this past fall.
“We found what we call a ‘dumb phone,’” Bazelon said. “It has no internet and no camera. I have his password and told him I’ll periodically scroll through his text messages. It’s easier to start off stricter and become more lenient.”
Accepting friend requests from only those you know and checking privacy settings will help limit your child’s exposure to Facebook outsiders. Bazelon warns that kids may sometimes adopt a persona online that they don’t normally have.
In public Bazelon says nearly all bullying takes place in front of an audience, but only 20 percent of the time do fellow kids step in to prevent it.
“Kids are really an important part of the puzzle,” Bazelon said. “When you ask victims of bullying what their peers did that was most helpful they most likely say it’s the smallest acts of empathy, either asking if they’re okay or sending a text after.”
Some optimistic trends Bazelon has seen is the number of drunk driving deaths among young people has “gone down measurably” since 1991 and more teenagers use the internet to send positive messages and encouragement to others.
She cited an example of a Catholic School where senior class leaders hosted a “Delete Day” on campus encouraging students to remove photos, comments, unknown friends, inappropriate groups and personal information which may be dangerous.
“Is that what you want a college admission officer to see?” Bazelon said. “That really came from the kids themselves.”