The Lavin Agency Speakers Bureau

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What Defines A Bully? A New Talk With Emily Bazelon

Is there a difference between bullying and simply being mean? Emily Bazelon, a speaker on bullying, thinks there is, and it's a crucial distinction to make. The Sticks and Stones author says bullying involves three elements: Verbal or physical abuse, repeated or chronic incidents, and a power imbalance. When these three things are present it “then seems like a campaign to make someone miserable,” she says in a New America NYC discussion. That's when you can truly define it as bullying—and when the real psychological damage begins to take place. 

It is the chronic nature of abuse that makes bullying so damaging. As Bazelon says, the anticipation and dread of a future attack coupled with having to constantly return to a place where more bullying will undoubtedly take place is really hard on kids. Now, especially, the bullying can seem unrelenting. It carries over from the classroom and into the home on the internet and social media. But whether the incident happens online or off, it's important to differentiate what behaviors are truly bullying and what are one-off incidents of conflict. Once you determine that, you can start to create strategies for solving the problem.

There is no catchall solution for putting a stop to bullying. Every incident, every kid, and every school environment is different so there must be different strategies to address each one. Intervention is a powerful tool, especially when it's done by the kids themselves. But, we also have to give kids other options (like asking the victim if they are OK, for example) because standing up to a bully is hard. “We're always demanding this of kids without thinking about why they don't stand up more,” Bazelon points out. That being said, it's important to show kids how powerful standing up to a bully can be, but, to give them other options of easing the situation if that should fail.

As well as authoring Sticks and Stones, Emily Bazelon is the editor of Slate.com. In this talk (co-hosted with Columbine author Dave Cullen) she explores the research in her book and provides strategies for dealing with bullying at home and in the classroom. Bazelon is an ideal speaker for events that address how schools can battle bullying and how they can create a culture of empathy with their students.