On Wednesday morning I watched the video that had been taken by a Greece Athena Middle School student as he and his friends taunted and humiliated Karen Klein, a 68 year old bus monitor. She cowers in the bus seat and is in tears as they sling dirty word after dirty word her way.
As a person who was bullied in middle school, it hit home. As an older sister, whose younger sisters were bullied, it hit home. My youngest sister watched the video and it brought back horrible memories from her middle school years, when she was tortured like that and even worse. She felt powerless and worthless, even though all I've ever seen is a brilliant, talented and beautiful person. Had things taken a different path, I might not have her in my life right now.
Fast forward twenty years. Now that I am a mom and Teen Librarian, I can’t allow this to go on. I realize how important it is to protect my kids and the teens of my library from bullying, I knew that I couldn’t sit idly by and watch the video. I had to do something about it.
So, as any good librarian would do, I started searching. It didn’t take long to find information, because unfortunately, bullying is a lot more commonplace than it should be. The Department of Education and The Department of Health and Human Services have a very informative website called StopBullying.gov. The sites just seem to go on and on. And the PSAs! The videos broke my heart. Listening as parents spoke about their children who felt that their only option out of these bullying situations was to take their own lives. Anyone who has a shred of compassion and watches these videos would realize that bullying someone is not acceptable.
Then I asked the other teen librarians for help. What can we do? Where can we go to get information? Stephanie Squicciarini from the Fairport Library suggested contacting A.S. King, who wrote Everybody Sees the Ants. She was at the Teen Book Festival this past year and she spoke a lot about bullying and its effects.
So that’s just what I did. By the time I did contact her, she already knew about it, even though she doesn’t live in New York. That’s how far reaching this video has become.
She said to me,
“Because this has happened in the area, now would be a great time to post book recommendations that parents can read with their children to talk to them (all ages) about the real effects of bullying. Now would also be a great time to talk about the bullying they've seen or experienced. These videos didn't just appear out of thin air. There have been bystanders to this behavior and bystanders need to know that they have options in situations like this. 80% of us are bystanders.
Can this awful event spark a town-wide read? The librarians (public & school) in Westborough, MA, just did that last year with a book of mine and it caused an amazing town-wide discussion. I'd recommend EVERYBODY SEES THE ANTS or any other book about bullying that speaks to several generations. While the idea is to talk about the experiences of the characters in the book during book chats, in a situation like this, I think bullying, in general, can be easier to talk about if it was approached through fiction. It's an experience like no other--watching people from age 14-80+ talk about the same subject.
When it comes to opening people's eyes, I think the video will do it. You can post links to bullying suicides throughout the years. People tend to shrug it off if it's not in their town. But it IS in their town. It just takes a video like this to remind them.”
She is so right. Books can only go so far. Reading news stories about teens that take their lives because of being bullied only go so far. But watching videos of this happening in our own neighborhoods with real people makes it real and makes it all the more horrifying.
As I read the websites and watched the videos, I noticed they all mention that it’s not just the bullies that are at fault. It’s also the people that don’t take a stand for those people that are being bullied. Then, as more news came out about the local incident, it appears that there were thirty other teens on the bus, and none of them did anything to stand up for Karen.
What if that had been you being tormented? Wouldn’t you hope that just one of those people would come to your defense?
As a community, what can we do? How can we make people see that this kind of thing isn’t fun and games, that it is unacceptable, that following along with the crowd is just as bad as actually doing it?
I’ve started putting together some resources here at our website, but as I said before, websites and books can only go so far. We need to pull together and find ways to fight bullying. In person.
Come into your local library and ask for your teen services librarian. Tell them your story. Ask them to lend an ear or a shoulder. We are called teen services librarians for a reason. Because we are here for you. Do you have ideas for how we can change this from continuing? Let us know and we’ll put it up on the website! We need to pull together and join forces to let people know that this is not acceptable behavior, but we can’t do this without your help.