Globe South Book Buzz

On bullying, a mother points to two good reads

By Nancy Harris
October 14, 2010

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Bullying has certainly been a problem for children for decades. But with the growing popularity of social networking and instant connectivity, bullying has taken on a whole new intensity.

Today, an embarrassing photo, a vicious rumor, or humilating story can be spread to an entire school in just minutes. With more attention being focused on it, we are more aware than ever before that bullying not only interferes with a student’s education, but leads to depression, anxiety, social isolation, and even suicide and violent behavior.

Martha Tansey of Scituate is a Smith College graduate, mother of two grown daughters, and a part-time saleswoman at Barnes and Noble in Hingham.

In her work, she has observed “growing numbers of parents seeking books that focus on helping even the very youngest child cope with bullying’’ and hopes that “parents are trying to nip it in the bud.’’

Tansey said there were some very difficult moments in her own household when her two daughters, now 24 and 26, were subjected to bullying and social exclusion in high school.

So she was pleased to hear that just this month, an anti-bullying program called “Rachel’s Challenge,’’ was brought to Scituate High School.

Rachel’s Challenge is a nonprofit organization that brings in speakers and uses video footage of the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School to urge students to practice compassion and kindness with each other.

Named after 17-year-old Rachel Scott, who was the first Columbine student murdered on April 20, 1999, the challenge was designed by her family as an outreach program to both bullies and victims.

In his 2009 book “Columbine,’’ journalist Dave Cullen takes us back to that terrible day near Littleton, Colo.

He draws on hundreds of hours of meticulous research collected over ten years, including extensive journals and videos made by the killers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold; thousands of police and FBI files; and hundreds of interviews with friends, family and classmates.

This book is not only a riveting account of the massacre itself, but an in-depth examination of the lives of Harris and Klebold.

It details many of the chilling clues that sadly went overlooked by police and the community for nearly a full year before the pair murdered 13 people, severely wounded dozens of others, then killed themselves.

In the days immediately after the tragic event, there was so much misinformation circulated by the media that a lot of unsubstantiated tales became legend and were never questioned.

In this revelatory book, Cullen debunks several myths about Harris and Klebold, including that they were part of a group called the “Trenchcoat Mafia’’ and that they were total social outcasts who had specifically targeted “the jocks’’ who had bullied them.

Instead, Cullen gives us a psychological profile of two teenage killers who were considered good students, who went to their own prom just three days before the murders, and had many friends.

In what seems to me to be the greatest irony of all, Cullen shows us, often in the killers’ own words, that rather than being the “victims’’ who lived a fringe, isolated existence in their suburban high school, they were in fact the real bullies.

They were two teenagers filled with raging hatred and contempt for almost everyone, adults and peers alike, and were bombs just waiting to explode.

If anything positive could be gleaned from Cullen’s book, it is this: we must pay close attention to both the victims and the bullies and not overlook any of the signs or warnings of bullying inside or outside of school.

Martha Tansey has been paying attention for years, in her own attempt to understand the roots of aggression and hostility, particularly among girls.

While she applauds all books written to guide us in how to help girls “cope’’ and “find specific strategies’’ to deal with bullying, she recommends one book in particular, “Odd Girl Out’’ by Rachel Simmons.

Simmons’ book examines the hidden jealousy, competition, and misguided definitions of popularity that lead to relational violence among girls. It also focuses on helping young women build self-esteem and confidence to prevent it.

As Tansey suggests, “books are always a good resource and place to begin to help understand and guide us through this terrible cultural trend of bullying.’’

She is quick, however, to add that it is also our job in schools and at home to help students of all ages understand the “horrible and tragic consequences of even the smallest unkind act, whether it is posting a hurtful photo, or text, or YouTube video.’’

Nancy Harris can be reached at

By Dave Cullen

Grand Central Publishing

432 pages

By Rachel Simmons

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

320 pages