Viewers around the world were treated to an appalling display of bullying of a bus monitor in Upstate New York last week that was caught on video and televised repeatedly. The abuse was especially shocking because the kids taunted the stoic Karen Klein by laughing, “You don’t have a family because they all killed themselves because they didn’t want to be near you.”
Klein’s son had commit suicide years earlier.
What may have been equally shocking in the aftermath of that incident was the reaction of the children’s parents. Or, the non-reaction.
The families have effectively gone underground. Some of the children and their parents reportedly wrote apology notes, but even the monitor said they didn’t seem terribly heartfelt.
The parents might argue that their children have been so vilified — even mild-mannered “Today” show host Matt Lauer called them “narrow-minded monsters” — that to come out in public would endanger them. But the parents might also recognize their unique ability to transform this terrible event into a learning experience for their children and for the country.
In truth, though, few of us would probably do any such thing.
Let’s face it. Those kids and their parents are probably not so different from the rest of us.
It just so happens that the New Yorker’s latest issue has an eye-opening piece by Elizabeth Kolbert called “Spoiled Rotten: Why do kids rule the roost?”
In the article, Kolbert examines several new books that look at different sides of an increasingly obvious trend — that we are spoiling our kids like never before.
From a study by anthropologists that revealed a lack of discipline in the modern American home to new examinations of how college graduates are returning home in droves, Kolbert’s piece becomes an indictment of our parenting culture.
She and the authors of the books she cites suggest that we are coddling our kids for several reasons.
One is that we fear for their future success and have placed their academic achievement as our highest priority, much higher than their character development. We are so worried about their grades that we often do their work for them.
And, when they are faulted by teacher, we are quick to fight back. A failing grade, or one that simply isn’t stellar, could ruin their record, we seem to believe.
I remember that when I was growing up my parents backed the teacher when I felt I was being treated unfairly in school. Their message, if they had one, was that sometimes life is unfair and that I should have worked doubly hard if my English teacher had it in for me.
The cultural pendulum was probably too far on the authority side back then, as all authority needs checks. But it seems to have swung wildly to the other side. Kolbert cites a book that describes a case in Washington State where a family hired a lawyer to protest a grade.
Another obstacle to discipline is the parental time crunch. We find our over-burdened selves too busy to expend the energy on walking our kids through chores. Frankly, it is easier and faster to do it ourselves.
This is one area where Kolbert admits falling victim to, and so do I. If I only have 10 minutes to make it to school on time, then I’ll just clear the girls’ breakfast dishes myself after I walk them to school.
But, Kolbert suggests, each time I clear those dishes, or pick up the books or clip the car seat they are perfectly capable of clipping, I am teaching them the unintentional lesson of dependence.
At the same time, every time I absentmindedly respond to one of their demands or am too tired to fight when they disobey, I am teaching them entitlement. I am teaching them that they do not have to think too much about others.
I am teaching them that they can act like rude little tyrants without consequence.
What we saw on that school bus, and what we saw afterward, may have as much to do with all of us as it did with a few “narrow-minded monsters.”
What do you think?
How much responsibility does our current culture of parenting have to do with episodes like the one on the New York school bus?