This week the news stations all blew up with video of four middle school boys bullying the 68 year old woman who was working as their bus monitor. They taunted her, called her names, made fun of her weight and suggested that her family should kill themselves all while recording it on their cell phones so they could later post the clip and show the world how cool they were. The problem (blessing?) they soon discovered was that very few people think it's all that hilarious to be total douche-bags to the grandmotherly lady who rides your bus to make sure the kids are safe.
There is now a fundraiser online that (last I checked) had reached right at $400,000 that started as a "let's send her on a nice vacation" and quickly turned into "let's give her enough to retire" fund. She has made the rounds of talk shows and news programs talking about it. And I have been struck by a few things, basically she handled it the way we tell our kids to handle bullying. She ignored them. That's the first thing we tell our kids right? Ignore them and they will go away. But they didn't. They got crueler and crueler. Because it was never about her, it was always about them. They were showing off to each other. Look how cool I am...I can top what you said. I would bet you any amount of money that any one of those kids on their own would never have said any of the nastiness they said with their buddies there. Boys in groups are operating on a different level than a boy on his own.
Okay, let's be fair here. Kids in groups. Right now Portland is experiencing it's own odd kids in groups phenomenon. The flash rob. A group of kids, up to 30 at times, rushes in to a store and takes everything they can then rushes back out. They've done it in convenience stores, department stores and grocery stores. And there is security tape of them doing it and in some of the shots you can see the kids looking at the camera and smiling. They know it's going to be on TV and they are excited by the idea! It's insane. You're committing a crime and you're gleeful because your grainy black and white security footage image will be shown on TV? What the hell is wrong with you?
When I was a kid and working for my dad at the gas stations or helping him with cars or yard work he would tell the story about the old man who hired a boy to mow his lawn and pull his weeds. He had a really big yard and it took a lot of work to maintain and the boy suggested that he also hire his two friends and they could get the work done quickly. The old man said, "If I hire one boy I get one boy. If I hire two boys I get half a boy and if I hire three boys, I get no boy at all." Which when I was younger translated to me that I wasn't going to get any more help so just get my chores done and don't whine...but as I got a little older I got it. Boys (kids) in groups stop worrying about what needs done and just worry about each other. Look at me! Look at me!
Back to the boys on the bus. I told you that a few things struck me with how the monitor handled things. Another was that she never reported the bullying. Until the little jerks posted the clip it wasn't public. And she also isn't pressing any sort of charges against them. She hopes their parents will handle it and they will learn a lesson. Well I can tell you that one of the lessons they are learning is that one of the other things in life that ends up with a force of its own is a group of boys (kids, adults) on the internet. You had the good response, "Hey! I've got a barn let's put on a show!" or wait..."I've got a page let's raise some money!" and you have the bad. These boys and their families have now had their names and addresses posted online. They are receiving death threats. You live by the bully you die by the bully? Is that the lesson here?
Now, please believe, and anyone who watched me parent for the past almost 20 years knows this to be true, if C had ever been involved in something like that he would have been punished and it wouldn't have been pleasant for him at all. I would like to be able to sit back and say there is no way he would have been. Because I do truly believe that. He was a good kid who has grown in to a good man. He has always been kind hearted and I do think he wouldn't have participated in a situation like that but I also saw the father of one of the boys on the news who looked shell shocked that his child participated in such an event. He said he just had the hardest time dealing with it because this wasn't anything he would ever expect from his child. And I believe him. He had the look of a truly ashamed parent. No defiance. No justifications. Just sorrow. And I would bet if you had asked him two weeks ago if his son would ever have been involved in something like that he would have said no way.
But I'm not sure that a lot of righteous indignation is really going to help these kids at all. By bullying them online aren't we just teaching them that what they did is okay but that they just chose the wrong target? And really if you are a grown ass adult and you are calling for the death of a 12 year old how does that make you any better than a 12 year old calling a 68 year old woman disgusting and fat? Doesn't it make you worse because as an adult you should know better by now? Or does being able to post online anonymously turn all of us into 12 year olds again?
I don't really have any larger lessons here. Just a few things to think about. First off, keep reminding your kids that thinking for themselves is important. And that it's really easy to get carried away in a group and go along with the crowd but personal moral codes aren't decided on by majority rules. If it's wrong to steal, call names, make someone cry when you are on your own it's still wrong when all of your buddies are doing it. Just much harder to carry through. And then remind yourself of the same things when you are tempted to post something online that you would never say to someone's face.