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In the wake of a shocking cellphone video that surfaced this week in which a group of seventh grade boys taunt, ridicule and just act downright nasty to 68-year-old grandmother Karen Klein, their school bus monitor, the public has responded with outrage -- and money. (Watch the video below.)
The New York Times reports that people have donated more than $464,000 to the Rochester, N.Y., woman, who was a bus driver for the Greece Central School District for 20 years before becoming a monitor, and the district has been inundated with more than 1,000 phone calls and some 5,000 emails in support of Klein.
"Certainly the behavior of the students on the video is a clear violation of our district's code of conduct and will not be tolerated," Deborah Hoeft, the assistant superintendent for student services, said during a press conference. "Disciplinary action to the fullest extent appropriate under New York Education Law will be taken against all involved."
Klein says she doesn't want the 12- and 13-year-old boys to face criminal charges, but many of the dozens of iVillage Facebook commenters -- using words like sad, sickening, disturbing, pathetic, horrifying and disgusting -- say justice should be served, and that parents should be held responsible, too.
"We need to change our laws that allow children to get away with anything they wish," one comment reads. "It would be a crime for an adult and should also be for children, and parents should have to answer for them. Parents should be fined and if [they] cannot afford it, should be made to do community service, such as cleaning up streets, parks, school grounds etc. Then other kids could make fun of the kids that have parents doing that work. If parents refuse, jail them."
While others suggest their own forms of punishment: "All of those evil brats should be sent to bootcamp and have to sit on stage at a public place like a mall and have all of their faults pointed out. Probably won't feel so good!"
Edward F. Dragan, EdD, author of The Bully Action Guide: How to Help Your Child and Get Your School to Listen, says he was saddened, and then angered by the bullying on the bus.
"[Klein] said it herself -- they were trying to impress each other by acting this way and she was the likely victim," Dragan, who provides expert witness services for attorneys on high-profile and complicated education-related cases, including bullying, tells iVillage. "She graciously said, 'They're not bad kids but when they get together (bad) things happen.' This reminds me of the kids in Lord of the Flies, a novel often assigned in Honors English, where a group of stranded children develop their own culture in which the most ruthless kids dominate. With no adult moral compass, animal instincts rule until the group commits the ultimate act of bullying -- killing the child whom they identify as the 'pig.'"
So, what leads a child to take place in this sort of herd mentality of bullying and what can parents do to help? After all, Dragan says it isn't likely every kid participating in Klein's attack was raised poorly.
Act quickly. As an educator, Dragan says he quickly learned the importance of prompt, firm adult intervention when kids treat others badly. "Even as Karen said, not every kid that abused her was mean," he says. "One, in particular, had an attitude of arrogance and smirked when he acted horrifically. The others simply joined in and followed, probably trying to impress the leader but adding to the hurt of bullying."
Teach kids to be empathetic. "Those who joined in demonstrated that they lacked self-confidence and the moral compass to be an 'upstander' not a participant," says Dragan. "This is something that parents can teach their children -- empathy. Empathy is learned through example and using negative encounters as teachable moments. Parents should show the YouTube video of the bus aide being abused to their children (see it below) and ask: How does that make you feel? What would you do if that was happening on your bus? Do kids bully and pick on other kids on your bus? What can you do to stop it? Poor parenting is ignoring opportunities to take an uncomfortable situation and turn it into a teachable moment."
Encourage your kids to stand up. Parents should encourage their children to be individuals in an effort to keep them from falling victim to this herd mentality of bullying, says Dragan. "They can encourage individuality and provide opportunities for self-expression. Take every opportunity possible to discuss observations of interactions between people -- kids and kids, adults and adults and kids and adults. Simply ask the question: How would you feel if you were treated that way? What can you do to make the hurt person feel better? What would you do if you saw a friend of yours treating someone like that?"
See the movie Bully. Dragan also recommends parents see the movie Bully that follows five families through bullying ordeals. "Parents and teachers are taking their kids to this movie and creating an opportunity afterwards to discuss feelings," he says. "In the movie, students are ganged up on by others, similar to the school bus aide situation. Audiences react with empathy and compassion for the bullied -- but kids sometimes need to be engaged in discussion to prod feelings and to develop empathy."