We all know bullying is happening every day at schools, on playgrounds, in play groups, etc. But when Karen Klein, a 68-year old upstate NY grandmother and school bus monitor endured relentless bullying on her school bus, it stopped us in our tracks.
The widow and mother of eight was taunted, jabbed and harassed by four seventh-grade boys for over 10 minutes. Shockingly, the incident was recorded in the hopes that the video would be funny enough for Comedy Centrals’ Tosh.O. The boys believed that in that (horrible) moment, they were nothing more than aspiring comedic rock-stars.
Certainly that wasn’t the case and no part of their video was even remotely funny. Earlier today, police in Greece, NY delivered handwritten apologies by the four boys to Klein’s front door. Apologies. That’s all Klein ever wanted. She graciously chose not to press charges and even asked the public to ease up on the kids.
But the public is having a hard time being so gracious. We are sick of bullying and fed up with adolescent children who have no regard for others.
- Remember Ashlynn Conner (2011), the 10-year-old 5th-grader, cheerleader and honor student from Ridge Farm Elementary who hung herself from her bedroom closet because she couldn’t endure the constant bullying? Reason: Girls in her class didn’t like her.
- Or what about the 13-year-old (2012) Kansas City boy who was doused with gasoline and lit on fire by two teenagers. He was walking home from school and just two blocks away. Reason: Appeared to be a hate crime.
- How about the suicide of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince (2012), the recent Irish immigrant who endured so much on-line bullying, she too took her own life. Reason: the popular girls didn’t like her.
- Then there’s Phillip Parker, the 14-year-old student from Carthage, Tennessee who killed himself due to bullying. Reason: he was gay and his classmates didn’t like that.
The list sadly goes on and on.
As a parent, I find myself wondering how these sweet little joys turn into terrorists who maliciously hurt others with no regard for consequences or feelings? There are a few reasons.
Why Do Kids Bully:
- Kids going through transitions often seek bullying as a way to deal. This is why bullying tends to peak amongst middle-age children, kids leaving the comforts and security of elementary school and getting ready to enter the big world of high-school. These kids are also dealing with the physical and hormonal changes. Additionally, after having little to no responsibility, all the sudden these kids can sometimes babysit, work part-time and carry one additional tasks. It’s one change after another for this particular age group.
- Kids who are aggressive by nature, tend to bully because they find violence as an acceptable way to treat others.
- Weaker kids bully in accordance with the “herd mentality.” If their friends are doing it, they will too.
- Most importantly, kids bully if they have seen bullying in areas that they relate to, i.e., at home, between parents and/or siblings, on TV or via their favorite video games.
- Kids will also use bullying to gain power and attention. They will instinctively pick on those they perceive to be weak. Additionally, in their desire for notoriety and recognition, they tape and post their horrific actions.
What Parents Can do to Stop Bullying:
- Use positive discipline whenever possible. This means instead of telling little Johnny that he’s always causing problems, try telling Johnny that he’s a great kid but that you as a family need to work on his temper.
- Use restorative and character building techniques. If little Johnny smashes another child’s iPhone, little Johnny needs to work hard and use him money to buy a new one. Or, after hurling insults at a friend, Johnny should be required / forced to go to that friend’s house and do the lawn or some type of positive activity.
- Help your child develop empathy. Look, we are all guilty of living under the shield of social media. We don’t call, we text or email. We don’t write thoughtful thank you notes or greeting cards, we send computer generated e-cards. Our kids don’t run and play outside, they sit inside and play with each other remotely via their computer gadgets. Kids do not know how to care for others – this is something parents must take the time to cultivate.
- Figure out what your child’s tendencies are. Do you have a child that is more aggressive or one that is more timid? Is he/she a leader or a follower? With those thoughts in mind, start talking about how they may find themselves playing a role in bullying as they get older. It’s actually never too late or early to start the conversation.
At the end of the day, it’s wonderful that the world is stepping up and speaking out on behalf of Klein. It’s refreshing to see that people still recognize that elders are elders and respect is important. This story is not more important though than the countless others that have come before it. Bullying today is not the “teasing” of yesterday. It’s a whole new beast that needs to be tamed.