I returned this weekend after visiting with my partner’s family flush with the joy of getting to meet the newest child to be born into their family. I had the pleasure of sitting down with my partner’s brother in particular. He talked a lot about the joys and challenges of raising two young boys but we also talked about how boys are socialized outside of the home as well. As a football coach in a major high school in Texas, violence amongst boys is a particular concern for him as well. However, this past year, the head coaches of all of the high schools in their district agreed to implement bystander training for all of their players every friday. And it is working, he told me, the boys on his team are becoming more aware and more responsive towards each other’s words and actions against each other and others in their lives.
I thought back to the many people who took the Iowa Men’s Action Network Father’s Day pledge and I felt hope that for the first time in a long time, our society had reached a tipping point where a critical number of people were having conversations about healthy masculinity, respect, and bystander behavior that we could finally make a change for the better towards a violence free society.
And then the story of Karen Klein the bus monitor popped up on my news feed and I realized just how far we still need to go. Couple this story with the continued high rates of teen suicide, alcohol and drug dependency, and academic drop outs show us just how much more needs to be done.
Fortunately, bullying is no longer accepted as “boys being boys” or “girls being catty.” We know this to be true with the critical reception of movies and educational programs like The Bully Project. We see it with the responses to bullying against gay and transgender children through the It Gets Better Campaign. Everywhere you look, more people are not only concerned about the emotional and physical costs of bullying, but are willing to step up and speak out about bullying.
Which brings me back to Karen. Though you can read (and view) the full details of how several young boys ganged up and teased the 68 bus monitor until she broke down into tears in the first link in this article, I was particularly struck by the response to this disturbing incident. Not only did the story explode over night, but it resonates with people who haven’t been involved in anti-bullying efforts before. Particularly, this is someone’s grandmother. In fact, it could be ANYONE’S grandmother who only sought to help kids by volunteering to supervise their bus rides to and from school.
I was particularly struck by a video that a few marines from Fort Meade, Maryland sent in. You can view their video here.
However, despite the public attention through a guest appearance on Anderson Cooper and a social media crowdsourced vacation to Disney land, I am still deeply concerned by the story of Karen Klein for a number of reasons.
1) The lessons of bullying were never really learned or taught effectively to the young boys who bullied Karen.
After the media firestorm this past week, two of the kids released statements of apology through the police that are tepid at best. One wrote:
“I am so sorry for the way I treated you. When I saw that video, I was disgusted and could not believe I did that.”
This is one of the fundamental problems in my mind regarding bullying and other acts of violence is that we know and condone such behavior. Especially for boys! Dr. Michael Kimmel in his book “Guyland” interviews over 400 boys and men across the country and one of the common themes that emerge is that violence and degradation are one of the crucial tools to prove some sort of elusive “manhood” especially between boys.
Parents are complicit in this message too. Too many of the boys and men I work with have all shared similar stories of their father’s telling them to “man up” and confront bullies with a “taste of their own medicine.” Some argue that self-defense may be a ”different form of violence” buy an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. The cycle of violence doesn’t stop because you affirm that real men aren’t afraid to be violent.
2)Some child stood back, video taped the incident, and posted it to youtube.
Though I am glad that this video is getting the condemnation it deserves, very few of the comments focused on the kid who videotaped someone’s anguish and posted it online for the world to see. Though awareness raising is still desperately needed regarded the extent and impact of bullying in elementary and high school environments, we need to start teaching our children to speak out as well. If we tell them that they should stand up to bullies with action, why can’t we teach them to stand up with words as well? What were the rest of the kids on this school bus doing during this bullying? To repeat, enough is enough. As one commenter on the youtube video said, “enough is enough. It is time that we all start talking about how to address bullying and not just condemn the actions.” If we are confused as to how to respond, just imagine how those kids would feel without a strong proactive message of love and respect being taught by their parents. Though I make my living as one of the many who promote anti-violence messaging in schools, even I must admit that no number of programs, videos, movies, songs, or pledges can do compared to the simple and consistent message from parents starting at a very young age.
3) Karen Klein and her video will fade from our attention spans
This may be the cynic in me, but this is just one of MANY stories of bullied youth. I am sure there were headline stories before my time that I don’t remember and I am sure there will be many more stories to come. The cycle of violence repeats itself not because violence is an intrinsic part of who we are, but because the vast majority of us will never stand up and speak out. How many stories of domestic violence will not be told. How many cases of college or high school hazings will not be told. How many stories of rape never get told? How many survivors of violence does there have to be before we committ to the phrase “enough is enough?”
My partner told me that we would become overwhelmed if we acknowledge every survivor of bullying, of hazing, of abuse, of rape, of murder. That may be true, but isn’t that reason enough to commit to teaching our kids, our brothers, our sisters, our nieces, our nephews, our friends to treat others with respect and dignity? Is that really a more difficult message than blocking out the pain and suffering of tens of thousands of others?