Unfortunately it’s not uncommon to hear about kids bullying kids, sometimes with tragic results. But now there’s a national story about school kids bullying Karen Klein, a 68 year-old grandmother and school bus monitor, that’s enraging anyone who reads about it or watches the video. It’s pretty disgusting.

While many people are wondering how things could get so out of control in such a short time, others say they have a good idea how and why this happened.

Experts agree that “the pack” mentality was working at full speed. A group will often do what an individual never would. Once taunting and anger start being expressed, it becomes a game of one-upmanship. Who can be the meanest and say the most hurtful thing.

That was certainly evident in the types of taunting that escalated from “your fat” to she doesn’t have any family members because “they all killed themselves because they didn’t want to be near you.”  Klein’s son committed suicide 10 years ago.

There were also threats of stabbing Klein, and urinating and defecating on her doorstep... all this, and more, spewing out of the mouths and hearts of 12 and 13 year olds.

Another reason some experts have given for the viciousness of the attack is the age of the victim. There are a growing number of children who are not being raised with the concept of respecting others and particularly older people. Child psychologists say some children feel they have little in common with seniors.  John M. Grohol Psy.D , Founder and Editor –in-chief of  the online service, Psych Central  notes “Undisciplined children and teenagers today, more so than at any previous point in history, have virtually no respect for senior citizens. Whether it’s because they were never taught it, or believe older people have nothing of interest to offer them of relevance to their lives, it’s not clear. But when a child or teen isn’t taught to give at least a modicum of respect people who are seniors, they may believe there’s nothing wrong with insulting them.”

Many teachers and school staff  will tell you that this kind of activity isn’t unusual. According the U.S. Department of Education, 127,120 (4 percent) public school teachers (K-12) were physically attacked at school including being hit, kicked, bitten, slapped, stabbed or shot, during the 2007-08 school year. Another 222,460 teachers (7 percent), were threatened by students with acts of violence.

The kind of viciousness displayed by the kids who attacked Klein is just another example of how too many kids are growing up with a sense of entitlement that they can say or do anything and not suffer any consequences. Where do you think that kind of thinking begins? Judging by the enormous response to stories published about this one incident – most people say it begins at home. 

There’s no doubt that modern culture and media, online access and the ability to remain anonymous, and child guardians and parents who act out their own violence and disrespect of others are key influences in how children learn to treat other people.

In recent years more schools are adopting anti-bullying programs and some of these programs are beginning to have a positive impact on how kids learn to resolve conflict. But learning respect for others shouldn’t have to wait till a child reaches school age.

Also, a child will have a much more difficult time standing up to peer pressure and “mob madness” if they haven’t been taught how to do it. Children need guidance and communication. By treating others with kindness and respect, adults show the kids in their lives that there is no place for bullying. Even if it seems like they are not paying attention, kids are watching how adults manage stress and conflict, as well as how they treat their friends, colleagues, and families.

Love, discipline and rules help children feel a part of the family and society. They need to know that certain behaviors have consequences. Discipline, in the true sense of the word, is not punishment. Punishment is a parent trying to control a child’s behavior. Discipline is teaching a child how to control his or her own behavior. If discipline is rarely established, punishment occurs more often with disappointing results.

As of this writing, 3 of the 4 kids identified as the leading culprits in the bus monitor’s story have apologized to Karen Klein. Their parents have expressed great remorse for the actions of their children. Despite the kid’s cruelty, Klein does not want to press criminal charges. She prefers that they perform community service and or lose the privilege of riding on the school’s bus.  That’s pretty gracious from someone who had to endure such a horrific mob attack. Let’s hope this incident inspires more parents to reflect on how their children are growing up, what they are learning about what is and is not acceptable behavior, and how they can help their child stand up to negative peer pressure. 

Sources: http://www.nea.org/home/42238.htm, http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/06/21/the-psychology-of-middle-school-kids-bullying-a-bus-monitor/