Reported By Women: Emily Bazelon at The Mercantile Library
Reporting by Laura Leavitt. Photography by The Mercantile Library/AES Photography.
Emily Bazelon’s work is often centered on New York City, where she lives, but she recently visited Cincinnati’s Mercantile Library to give a lecture on issues that touch many lives, especially kids throughout Cincinnati. Topics ranged from bullying and empathy to the roots of the mass incarceration of our youth. With about 100 people in attendance, the lecture provided food for thought about some of the issues that plague our city and nation.
Bazelon is a writer for The New York Times Magazine, where her reporting dives into the core reasons why youth are unhappy, stressed, anxious, and depressed. Her 2013 book Sticks and Stones looks at the changing trends in bullying among young people and what efforts have been most successful for stemming bullying around the world.
Many people who could not say a cruel thing to someone’s face can type it and click “send” on impulse.
However, the Internet presents a particularly traumatic format for bullying behaviors, and those behaviors are still on the rise. The Internet, Bazelon explained in her lecture, is available 24/7, permanent and public, and can feel anonymous even when it really isn’t. Many people who could not say a cruel thing to someone’s face can type it and click “send” on impulse, Bazelon points out. Her research suggests that there is room for creative ways to encourage kids and teens to exercise empathy online as a form of digital citizenship; kindness must extend to the online realm.
She doesn’t suggest a single solution, and interestingly, Bazelon doesn’t want to dismiss the children and youth that are dubbed “bullies” either. She sees various types of bullies as responsive to different interventions, and she has a healthy skepticism about the effectiveness of direct adult intervention in the first place. She wants to advocate for strategies that empower children and youth to solve their own problems – not by abandoning kids to “deal with it,” but by teaching them strategies for deflecting, ignoring, or reorienting bullying behaviors. She pointed out during the lecture that sometimes just having a bystander who says, “Hey, that’s my friend,” can make it less attractive to continue a bullying behavior.
“We all need to share the load – whereas at the moment, we’re mainly asking schools to shoulder it.”
She’s also a strong proponent of more people getting involved than just school administrators and teachers. Children spend a lot of time at school, but adults are usually juggling many competing concerns in a school environment. For instance, Bazelon says, “We all need to share the load – whereas at the moment, we’re mainly asking schools to shoulder it.” She sees all of society’s “village” of adults as having a role in fostering more empathy and kindness among children, since quick and onenote solutions don’t tend to eliminate bullying behaviors long-term.
Bazelon also touched on her latest research that brought the book Charged to life. This book examines how over time, the criminal justice system has shifted power to the prosecutors in violent and gun-related criminal cases. She discusses how the reason for owning a gun in a low income area may have nothing to do with planning to fire it, but may instead be a show of power or strength. However, people who get caught with a gun in a variety of circumstances may receive “mandatory minimum” sentences, depending on the charge the prosecutors choose. She follows two young people who are caught up in the criminal justice system alongside an innovative program that gives young people charged with firearm possession a second chance. Bazelon didn’t reveal all of her conclusions, but she did point out that reducing our enormous prison population should be a bipartisan issue, since the expense for imprisoning people is high and disproportionately affects marginalized populations.
Bazelon’s work, while tangentially related, does have a common thread: what happens in our schools and to our young people affects them and the rest of society for many, many years afterward. Both cultivating a culture of empathy and making common sense reforms to help teens in tough circumstances get a chance to grow seem like paths forward to making the future brighter for the youth of today. The audience asked thoughtful questions, indicating that we’ll all be thinking about these pressing but complex issues for years to come.
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