Karen Klein: When Bullying Gets the Attention of the Nation and World

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. Kids who are aggressive by nature, tend to bully because they find violence as an acceptable way to treat others.
  3. Weaker kids bully in accordance with the “herd mentality.” If their friends are doing it, they will too.
  4. 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.
  5. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

As the Sandusky Jury Deliberates, News of the Sexual Abuse of an Adopted Son Emerges

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This case is killing me on so many levels. Here we have it: the larger-than-life coach molesting the most needy and troubled children while others essentially allowed it to happen.

For weeks, I have been trying not to write about Sandusky because, honestly, I’m finding it hard to use the words “allegedly” and “innocent until proven guilty.” Call it mother’s instinct, call it common sense, call it whatever you want but at the end of the day Sandusky’s actions have been alarming, suspicious and inappropriate at best.

Why and how do we let things like this happen to the most innocent members of society? All the sleepovers with boys, all the “run-ins” at different parts of Penn State where Sandusky was caught doing things with minors he shouldn’t be doing, all the “wrestling matches,” showers, and so on and still nothing until now? Really?!?

And today, we find out that his adopted son, Matt Sandusky, claimed he had been abused by Sandusky and even offered to testify against him. Matt met Sandusky when he was a boy enrolled at the Second Mile, the charity Sandusky created to find his prey to help troubled youth who didn’t have strong family support systems. Matt moved into the Sandusky household at about age 11. His biological parents state that Matt did not like living there and tried to escape on a few occasions.

We are not sure why but Prosecutors did not call Matt to testify. This latest information is still useful and can potentially be used to create new criminal charges against Sandusky at the conclusion of the current case. People are speculating today that it was Matt’s potential testimony that led Defense attorneys to keep Sandusky off the stand.

To date, Sandusky allegedly molested 10 young boys. In reading the Grand Jury report and the claims against him, it seems fair to say that Sandusky allegedly relied on text-book rules and practices of predatory pedophiles:

  1. seek out troubled and neglected youth
  2. flower them with attention and gifts
  3. get them accustomed to your touch in informal settlings, i.e., play wrestle
  4. get them alone and keep them isolated, and
  5. attempt and/or forcing sexual contact

Now that the nine day trial is behind us and closing arguments have been made, the jury must go through 48 charges, some of which include unambiguously illegal actions with a minor, i.e., anal and oral sexual contact. Other actions are not so clear-cut. For example, more than one victim claimed that he and Sandusky took showers together; while horrifying, this is not a crime as defined by the law. The issue for the jury becomes whether Sandusky orchestrated those actions for the purpose of achieving sexual arousal.

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While we wait for the jury’s decision, I am reminded that as much as I love the law, and I really do love the law, there can be no justice in this case. If Sandusky is found guilty, the lives of these abused boys, now men, will still never be the same. No amount of money or attention will restore lost childhoods and innocence. If Sandusky is found innocent, life as he knows it is still over – the fame, the glory, the reputation and clout – are all gone.

All that’s really left is the hope that crimes of this nature will stop or that kids will develop the understand that abuse is always wrong (no matter who the abuser is) and that telling a capable adult can hopefully put an end to this all-too-common predatory pattern.

Madonna Badger’s Heartbreaking Story

I can’t get over the heartbreaking story of Madonna Badger and the loss of her three little girls and parents on Christmas Day. It’s an alarming occurrence as a wretched fire burned down her $1.7 million dollar Stamford, Conn home while she, her boyfriend, her three kids and her parents slept. The fire killed her 7-year old twin girls and their 9-year-old sister. It apparently started during the night, awaking Badger and her boyfriend. No alarms ever went off. And while she desperately tried to save her girls, choosing them over her parents by the way (what a tough decision), the smoke made it impossible. I honestly can’t get past stories like these. They’re pieces of news to us but a life-altering reality for others. No investigation was ever done into the cause of the fire and her home was immediately demolished following the blaze – interestingly, not at her request. According to Badger, none of her property survived the fire and all she was given was a bag of stuffed animals. So many questions… Heartbreaking in so many ways…

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Good-bye ‘Today’s’ Ann Curry? GMA winning the rating war?

What’s going on in morning TV people??

It looks like Ann Curry might be leaving ‘Today’… As a long-time fan of morning news-shows (and I mean LONG-TIME like dating back to my nerdy elementary school days when I preferred morning news programs over cartoons), I have to say that sadly, this might be the best decision. I like Ann, I really do, but she might not be filling that incredible seat the way the women before her did like Barbara Walters, Katie Couric, and even Meredith Vieira. Don’t get me wrong, I have an overwhelming amount of respect for her — so much so that if she walked into the room right now, I could start crying [there’s also about 15 other things that would make me cry right now, including but not limited to swollen feet, exhaustion, CNN, Fox News, Fast and Furious, the Sandusky trial — don’t even get me started on that — dishes in the sink and so on and so forth]. But really, who doesn’t respect Ann? She has worked hard at ‘Today’ for about a decade and a half and has reported all over the world on the most fascinating topics. She has been consistently caring towards those who sit next to her or across from her. Her style has changed over the years (and more recently hit a few bumps), but in terms of Ann the person, to me, she seems top-notch. I wish her nothing but the best and remain curious to see what happens.

Down Broadway and on the other side of town, GMA is fighting a good fight and its ratings are reflecting that. While the content is excellent and equivalent on all the morning shows (CBS included), I see GMA peaking its nose across the finish line because of two subtleties:

1. Its use of an additional character, a character that adds culture, depth, excitement, meaning, and importance; a character that holds your attention, especially if you’re not in the Northeast. That character? The one and only New York City. Sure ‘Today’ gives you glimpses of Rockefeller Center and sure I prefer Rock Center over Times Square any day of the week but there’s something about the way New York as a city is used in the two shows that’s just not the same. It seems to be an afterthought on ‘Today’ but part of the main stage on GMA. That makes a subtle yet significant difference and I think viewers would agree.

2. GMA’s great cast has a sort of freshness to it and within that, seems to do a better job navigating pop culture stories. In today’s tabloid driven society, that’s an important edge. Think of it, even the almighty Oprah had to resort to a two-part interview with the Kardashian’s to boost her network’s ratings!

At the end of the day, I remain humbly in awe of anyone who is even loosely affiliated with any one of these programs. About 15 years ago, I started writing “I will be a guest on a morning news-show” daily in my then trendy “Dream Journal.” I no longer have the journal but one big cross-country move, a marriage, two degrees and three kids later, I still have the same dream!

Great Day Houston – Keeping Kids Safe Online

It was great stopping by GDH today to discuss special apps that help keep kids safe online. To watch the clip, just click here:  Great Day Houston: Keeping Kids Safe Online

Stepping back and thinking about all the dangers that surround our kids could give any parent anxiety! The reality is we can’t control the world we live in or the actions of others but we can arm ourselves with every possible tool to protect our little loves. It takes time and effort and sometimes becomes another item tagged on to the unending “to-do” list but at the end of the day, my goodness, what do we really have that’s as valuable and as important as our children?

All that said, I’m curious as to what others think of spyware and invading children’s privacy? Should kids be given privacy when the dangers they face online [child predators, cyber bullying, pornography, etc.] go so beyond anything they can handle? Is education enough?