Those Kids on the Bus: What We Need to Learn -- a Bit of a Rant From the Perspective of a Single Early Thirtysomething...With No Children

posted Jul 18, 2012, 9:28 AM by Terrence Moss   [ updated Jul 18, 2012, 9:49 AM ]

Disclaimer: I am neither a parent nor a psychologist. I’m just a reasonably intelligent single early thirtysomething male entity with an opinion. If you feel my status as such invalidates this entire essay, then I invite you to read the latest blogisode of “I Am Erick Davidson”.

About a month ago, a video of four seventh grade students mercilessly taunting a 68-year-old bus monitor surfaced on the internet, went viral and became national news. 

It’s been a deservedly great time for Karen Klein, who stands to receive over $600K in donations for her ordeal.

But it’s been a significantly longer period for those four students and their parents – who have endured deserved national outrage and undeserved public death threats for their youthful indiscretion.

There has been much discussion as to how to properly punish these four kids. But so much is wrong with this situation that each part deserves its own punishment because one sweeping punishment can’t possibly make up for what could be considered criminal by some standards.

First off, Karen Klein is a grown adult. That should have stopped them right there but it didn’t.

Secondly, this is a woman – one very much like their own mothers, sisters, aunts and grandmothers. This clearly never crossed their minds so I can only imagine that neither is present in their lives or they were raised by a group of men who have taught them nothing about respect for a woman. How else could they possibly mistreat a woman in such a way without taking any of this into consideration? Hell, they don’t seem to have even realized that this was in fact someone’s mother, sister, aunt and grandmother.

Assuming any combination of the four entities is present in their own lives, would those kids really want any of them to have to go through the same thing they put Karen Klein through? Would they want to hear that their mother, sister, aunt or grandmother had gone through the same thing as Klein? Would they want to see it on video or watch it on the news? I certainly hope not, but clearly none of this entered their minds either.

Lastly and perhaps most importantly, this is a human being with feelings and emotions that come to the surface when triggered by such taunts and ridicule.

Kids, in particular these kids, don’t generally think in those terms. Not only is it unfortunate, but it’s tragic. And it’s tragic because it says so much about how we as a society are churning out a generation of kids without such regard for adults, for women or for human beings in general.

I imagine much of the national outrage stems from the fact that we as a society finally have to come face-to-face with something we’ve long feared – that something is wrong, something is terribly wrong. And it’s our fault.

I was raised during the 1980s and 1990s – an era of time when kids had very few rights (at least not in the Moss household) – except to do what we were told. It was an era when parents (at least my parents) didn’t care much about their child’s opinion unless they asked for it, which they rarely did. It was an era when parents getting a call from the school meant trouble when you got home, before you got home or right at school (at least it was with my parents). It was an era when embarrassing your parents was going to turn out to be far more embarrassing for you (at least it was with my parents). It was an era when, if you couldn’t or didn’t exercise home training at home, you had better exhibit some semblance of it outside the home (at least that was the golden rule of the Moss household). It was an era when behavior was self-monitored because you didn’t want to have to face your parents (at least not my parents) should they find out what you done did because during this era, respect for adults superseded anything else.

When shit when down, the first thing my parents did was ask what I did. What did I do to cause this situation? What part did you have in how things went down?

That was their first question. It’s not that they didn’t want to believe me. It’s not that they assumed I had done something wrong. They just knew what kids in general were capable of – even if I had never done it before. And I was capable. It was all possible. And before they made a phone call or paid someone a visit, they wanted to know all the details so that they could get to the bottom of things and make sure that guilty parties were properly punished – especially if it turned out to be me. And if that turned out to be the case, I knew what was coming.

But even if I was blameless and even if I was found innocent of all charges, my parents talked to me about how to better handle that situation the next time or avoid it altogether.

Case in point: during the first quarter of my freshman year of high school, I was failing gym. GYM. I went to every class, I changed and I participated. But the teacher didn’t like my attitude (imagine that).

The activity that quarter was football. I didn’t like football. I didn’t want to play football. I didn’t know how to play football. I didn’t want to know how to play football. And I resented having to play football with highly-favored members of the football team who expressed no interest in having me play with them (probably because I expressed no interest in learning).

My gym teacher that quarter just happened to be one of the football coaches. And he didn’t like my attitude any more than I liked participating. So when an “F” turned up on my progress report, my father asked me what was going on in gym. I honestly didn’t know. So he gave the gym teacher coach a call to find out what was going on. But my father didn’t tear into him and threaten to sue for jeopardizing my chance at the Ivy Leagues. He simply asked the gym teacher coach what I was doing wrong.

The gym teacher coach told him.

My father thought it was ridiculous because it was gym. Even though he told me so, he also asked me how I could fix the situation because the onus was still on me to do so since failing grades were not allowed in the Moss Household.

So I faked it an attitude adjustment and wound up with a B.

While I didn’t necessarily do anything wrong and while my father understood where I was coming from, the true fact of the matter was that I was still getting an F and that needed to change – not the gym teacher coach.

Nowadays that gym teacher coach would probably be suspended for infringing on my laughable rights as a child and having a negative effect on my self-esteem.

This perhaps is where things went wrong. We started treating children as people with rights and opinions. But they’re not people. They’re children. That’s why they have parents in charge of them and most adult people don’t. That is the difference. One has to be taught how to function in a society and one should already know how to do so.

Another problem, and I’ll risk oversimplifying it here, is that discipline is now commonly mistaken as abuse. There is a very, very fine line between the two. I was spanked as a child -- often with a belt, but never without several warnings, just cause and an explanation as to why this was now occurring.

This is why I laugh at time outs as a rule. They may work on some kids but I have come across a lot of children with whom time outs do not and will not work. You can tell the difference between a child that responds to time outs and a child than does not. You can tell the difference between a child who only responds to a brick upside the head and a child that only responds to a pop upside the head.

Yet another problem, and this is far more problematic, is that parents underestimate what their child is capable of. I asked my mother what she would have done had that been me on the bus taunting the bus monitor. She didn’t even entertain the thought because that wouldn’t have been me. And she repeated that a few times.

I knew better because I was taught better. If people are capable of anything, good or bad, so are children – because they’re watching and listening. I imagine my parents knew this about my brother and me. It’s not that they expected us to do such things but they didn’t operate under the “not my kid” mentality. Good or bad, it was all possible.

My brother and I knew the standards. We knew what was allowed in the Moss Household and what was not. Plus, we had a pretty good idea how our parents would react. If it was serious enough, there would be jail time and they probably would have insisted on it. My parents weren’t going to allow such behavior back in their house. This I knew.

If it wasn’t serious enough for jail, it was serious enough for the belt and we lived under the constant threat and possibility of it. We didn’t get hit with the belt often, but when we did, we knew we had it coming. That threat and that possibility kept us in line.

A lot of parents and society as a whole doesn’t like to think about or talk about such discipline. Clearly it’s still needed. It was needed for these kids on the bus. It’s needed for kids who are walking around bullying other kids, fighting their teachers, disrespecting adults, stealing, stabbing, shooting and destroying property. These are not acts for which a time out in a corner is going to suffice.

Which brings us back to the problem of what is a suitable punishment for such behavior? One parent wants to put his kid in therapy. Maybe. I believe firmly in therapy but in this case, I have to question the parenting itself. This was the same parent who felt these kids had been punished enough from the public humiliation they had endured (the uncalled for death threats notwithstanding).

The school district has suspended the four students for a year (during which time they will be transferred to an alternative education program). They are prohibited from using regular bus transportation for a year. And they are required to complete 50 hours of community service with senior citizens.

Some say this is excessive, but their punishments have to be harsh. They are the examples. They are the ones that other kids need to look to when they make decisions (and these are decisions because they’re not animals) about how to behave and how to treat adults, women, seniors and human beings as a whole.

Is it enough? Does it go too far? Does it go too far in some areas and not far enough in other areas? That remains to be seen. This isn’t over. This is only the beginning for them and for society as a whole. We have to learn something from this. We have to take something away from this. We have to figure out how to teach our kids how to keep themselves in line.

I say “we” because I am a firm believer in the all but abandoned concept of “it takes a village to raise a child”. Clearly it does but we’ve lost that. And kids know this. So instead of multiple sets of eyes keeping watch over kids, it’s down to one or two. I know that parenting isn’t easy. I would never in a million years suggest that it is. Since it isn’t easy and it isn’t getting any easier, why not go back to the “village” concept?

But had Klein or the bus driver retaliated in ANY way, they would have been suspended or even arrested. Kids know this, which is another part of the reason why this occurred. We’ve got parents wanting teachers to do their job without any power or support to do so. There is a disconnect. We need to become a society where parents and teachers and neighbors and responsible adults band together to raise these children, keep them safe, get them educated and out on their own to become positive contributions on the world as opposed to a drain.

And kids need to know that they are always being watched. If the parent didn’t see it, maybe the teacher did. Maybe a trusted neighbor did. Maybe some random person did. Either way, the parent is going to find out about it and they’ll be disciplined accordingly – either by the parent, the teacher and/or the trusted neighbor. And the child will think twice about bullying other kids, fighting their teachers, disrespecting adults, stealing, stabbing, shooting and destroying property.

But it requires trust and it requires unity. Parents, do you have it? Society, are you up for it? Or do we need a bus monitor to actually be beaten up before we take back the control?