Emily Bazelon Takes Reddit’s Questions in an AMA

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
Feb. 28 2013 5:14 PM

Kennedy, Don’t Mess This Up

Emily Bazelon answers Reddit’s questions about bullying and the term’s big Supreme Court cases.

Author Emily Bazelon.
Emily Bazelon

Photo courtesy of Emily Bazelon

Slate senior editor and Sticks and Stones author Emily Bazelon took to Reddit to answer reader questions on Thursday. This transcript has been edited for clarity. The full AMA is here.

andrembrown: Hi, Emily. Really big fan of the Gabfest here. What do you think the most likely outcome will be of the landmark gay marriage case (Hollingsworth v. Perry) heading to the Supreme Court next month? With the court being so conservative, is it still likely that Justice Kennedy will be the swing vote in favor of gay marriage?

As my law professor loves to say, it's just Anthony Kennedy's world, and we're all living in it.

Emily Bazelon: Yes that is a favorite AK saying. You know, I didn't want Perry to go up to SCOTUS—the case has always made me nervous because it's so far-reaching. I'm with Obama on this one: better for gay marriage to become legal through state legislators and voters. But I have to say I'm feeling more hopeful that AK won't mess this up. The amicus brief that some prominent Republicans are filing in favor of gay marriage should help. And also, there are a couple of ways the court could find in favor of gay marriage without ordering it for the entire country, which I think would be overreaching. So I'm hoping for one of those outcomes.

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ryanlindly: Despite the recent studies you have mentioned suggesting that being bullied while young can have detrimental effects for over a decade, we still have a trope about the bullied being somehow more empathetic, resilient, and well-rounded as an adult. At the same time, when an adult commits a heinous crime, it's often reported that that person was bullied as a child, as though that explains something about their actions. How does the reality of the adult who was bullied as a child generally compare to those extremes we often render? How do you account for the persistence of these both positive and negative views of the post-bullying adult?

Thanks for doing this. I love the Gabfest and look forward to reading your book.

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Emily Bazelon: Hey, thank you—we love our Gabfest listeners! Very astute point you are making. Victims of bullying do have higher rates of anxiety and depression and suicidal thinking as adults. And sometimes they lash out later, like children who are abused at home do. But most of the time, they are resilient, and they do recover. So we have to hold on to both of those truths at the same time: most kids recover, but some don't, and that's why this is an issue worth taking seriously.

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billmelater: As a high school teacher, I hear quite a bit of and about bullying, which frustrates and disappoints. In your Fresh Air interview you spoke of the importance of guidance counselors getting involved in such conflicts. While we have many resources devoted to punishing bullying (especially of the cyber variety) we don't have any real conversations about it. Unfortunately, most attention in my district is given to response rather than prevention. What role, if any, do you see a teacher playing in raising awareness among students? Should we keep this like our (mandated) sex-education policy, and just assume that the parents will handle it? Thanks so much, and don't let David give you any garbage. Your Cocktail Chatter is always trenchant and entertaining.

Emily Bazelon: Oh, so nice to hear that David is alone in dissing my Cocktail Chatter, at least today. I am so with you about prevention rather than punishment. To me what makes most sense is that at a young age, schools need to help kids learn to regulate and express emotions. That's at the foundation of bullying, right? This isn't all on schools: It should start at home and really most of the responsibility falls to parents. After all, empathy is something you can talk about at the dinner table—it's about asking your kid to imagine herself in someone else's shoes. But schools increasingly raise our kids along with us, so this is where I'd like to see them invest the most resources. I'm a fan of social and emotional learning—see the CASEL website for more.

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bassnectarhead: I really enjoy the Political Gabfest and the sunny disposition you bring to it.

What are your thoughts about the VRA? Do you really think SCOTUS will repeal Section 5? And what would the practical effects of that be?

Emily Bazelon: Oh, poor Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act—it looked like Kennedy, Alito, Scalia, Roberts, and silently Thomas were ready to kill it yesterday at the Supreme Court. Charlie Savage has a good piece in the New York Times today about the practical effects and I've written about this in Slate. Basically, the biggest impact will be felt in ways that are pretty invisible: small counties and cities moving polling places, or curtailing early voting, or changing voting hours in ways that could disproportionally affect minority voters. Instead of DOJ reviewing before these changes can go into effect, it will be on the voters to sue afterward. That's a higher bar.

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catsinpajams: Why do you think bullying has been becoming such a hot-button issue for the last few years or so when it has undoubtedly been around since the beginning of time? Surely everyone has been bullied at some point or other in life but there was never so much sensitivity towards it until recently. This may be a boneheaded question.

Emily Bazelon: No, everyone has not been bullied. If you use a limited definition, like the one I posted earlier, then this is not normal, majority behavior. It affects 10 to 25 percent of kids—including bullies, victims, and kids who are both—and that's been true for the last decades. What's different now is the Internet, which can make bullying feel 24/7 and which also makes parents of my generation nervous because we didn't grow up with it, so we're having to figure out the effect on our kids without having gone through it ourselves.

Oh, but I also wanted to say, not a boneheaded question at all—an important one!

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