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The Bully Boys

June 20, 2012

Unless you’ve been camping in a cave, you’ve probably seen the YouTube video this week of an elderly bus monitor – Karen Klein – enduring verbal abuse and bullying from some horrid middle school aged boys from Athena Middle School in Greece, New York. Those mean boys threatened Ms. Klein physically, used profanity and even suggested that her children should commit suicide.

After my initial shock and disgust, I wondered, “who raised these jerks?” If one of my children had ever behaved in such a fashion – and particularly toward an elderly person – they would be suffering consequences that would have them questioning whether or not their life was worth living. I’m NOT kidding.

So, you can imagine that I was NOT that impressed when I watched the father of one of the boys being interviewed on national T.V and apologizing for the incident on his son’s behalf.

“I would say I’m sorry. This is not the way I raised my kids. I never would in my wildest dreams think they were capable of this,” the father said. He also said he plans to get professional help for his son. “It’s not just going to stop at you’re grounded, you don’t get to watch TV. This is much bigger than that. We need to get professional help to get to the bottom of the issue of the bullying, of what caused him to treat anybody this way.”

Well, you might wonder, the father apologized – what more should you expect? And, he is planning to get his son professional help. Again, what else do you think he should do?

I’ll tell you what I’d do but it would involve turning back the clock: don’t raise them to be bullies in the first place. Over the past 50 years, a popular method of child-rearing has been to make excuses for children and their bad behavior instead of managing, guiding, directing and (gasp!) disciplining them.

I write in my book, How to Survive and Succeed in Life Without Being a Bitch or a Bully, that the number one risk factor for a child becoming a bully is their parents. Yep – parents. And, in particular the parents whose attitude is that nothing their little darling does is wrong and is someone else’s fault helps mightily in the development of a child becoming arrogant, feeling entitled and lacking empathy toward others’ differences, pain and suffering. However, should their darling engage in aberrant behaviors – therapy will miraculously “fix” them.

Now, I’m not at all averse to therapy.  Quite the opposite.  It is often the only thing that can set a person on a path that will lead to them being a better person and living a more satisfactory, peaceful life.  What I do shake my head over is the prevalent opinion that therapy can be a substitute for parenting.  It can’t and isn’t.

I don’t know how that boy was raised. And, I’ll assume that his parents thought they were doing things right.  But, and this is a BIG but, something went awry.  What I do know is that children who are raised to respect others,  to think of others first and to have a healthy fear of consequences should they step out of line simply don’t bully. Ever.

So what can we do?  Everyone – parents, schools, police – all seem to be wringing their hands. And, the bullying problem is not limited to a particular region.  It is systemic in our current culture and is, at its root, a problem we have nationally with the old fashioned concept of “civility.” As a culture, we just don’t want to seem to behave in a mannerly and orderly fashion as we once did and are even entertained by incivility. Jersey Shore?  The Real Housewives franchise?

What we can’t do is nothing.  I have solutions to the problem – that’s one of the reasons that I wrote the book. But, those solutions involve changes in parenting and policies. So, the question we have to ask ourselves is this, “are we willing to make those changes?”

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