Few news stories have touched such a chord as the one about the New York grandmother bullied by four seventh-grade boys on a school bus.
Thousands of people, appalled by the YouTube video of the bullying, have donated money so that 68-year-old bus monitor Karen Klein could take a vacation or, as the fund mounted to more than $500,000, retire and never be abused again by such horrid little creatures.
There’s nothing new about the kind of cruel verbal onslaught the boys unleashed. Sadly, children often bully other children on school buses, in school hallways, on playgrounds – and it isn’t always limited to abusive language. Here we vividly recall when a disabled middle school student was beaten on a Pierce Transit bus in 2009 by another middle-schooler. Several Tacoma high school students either served as accomplices or did nothing to help the boy.
What sets the case in New York apart is that the 13-year-olds felt free, even entitled, to so badly treat an elderly woman. And the bullying was captured on cellphone video, with at least one of the bullies apparently so proud of their deed that he posted it on Facebook.
Now the bullies are on the receiving end of their own behavior; they and their families have received threatening calls and emails. That may sound like poetic justice, but it kind of defeats the whole message here, which is that any kind of bullying is bad – even bullying bullies. The more appropriate reaction is that of those who are giving Klein a virtual hug by donating to the fund set up for her by a young Canadian man.
The bullies have issued apologies, and family members have voiced their mortification over the boys’ actions and promised disciplinary action. That’s a start. But other parents should take the opportunity to talk with their own children about bullying and respecting the feelings of others. An empathy check is in order, especially, it seems, for middle-school boys.
And then parents should take a good, hard look at what their children are exposed to. Are they getting cues about acceptable behavior by watching adults behave badly on such TV shows as “Jersey Shore,” “Bad Girls Club” and “The Real Housewives of . . . wherever”? On these shows, adults regularly shout at, curse and even physically attack each other. They’re rewarded with paychecks and celebrity status.
With role models like that, why is anyone surprised when impressionable kids behave like bullies, too?