How is it possible that as a society we have watched the behavior of kids go from fairly normal to "Lord of the Flies" and still use words like "punishment enough." Especially when "punishment enough" usually refers to no punishment at all.
Some thoughts about Karen Klein, the bus driver in New York State who was mercilessly taunted by 7th grade boys.
1) I am so thrilled that there are so many people out there who gave her quite a consolation in the form of retirement and vacation. It renews my faith in the human spirit and I truly hope she has a wonderful time with both.
2) I think this society of parents better start taking the moral destruction of their kids seriously.
3) Living in a society of talk first and maybe punishment later, but probably not, has got to change or we need to get used to this kind of thing.
4) Will someone please tell me why all the little kid cartoons are geared towards manners, good behavior, living by the Golden rule, treating others as we would like to be treated and caring about others, but somehow when you make the jump to the next age level of cartoons, none of that is there. In fact the opposite is. Rather, you see insults made funny, the most deplorable behavior, complete lack of conscience and nothing in the way of teaching anything decent? Anyone? Who the "bleep" is making these anyway.
5) Does anyone think that a child develops this lack of humanity and the ability to watch someone else suffer without first having either seen others in their lives do that and get away with it or get power for it or have had it done to them?
Mean behavior begets mean behavior. Period! Mean behavior with power, powerfully begets mean behavior. I don’t want to get into a long description of the science behind it. What I do want to say is that with 26 years of watching the real life version of mean behavior in kids that continues or stops based on the responses to it, I think we talk too much and I think we make too many excuses for kid’s behavior and allow it to grow into something malignant.
To parents: if you see your child doing mean behaviors to others when little, don’t walk away saying it’s a stage to be grown out of. It grows all right, into bigger and better mean behavior. Talking about it is fine but not by itself. If the child is getting power from it in some way or sees an adult in his or her world getting power for it, the behavior will continue to feel profitable no matter if you talk or not. If you take power over your child by being mean to the child or others in your home or life, realize that you are leaving a legacy behind and it may not be what you want it to be.
While I am not a proponent of censorship, I think parents need to not only be involved in what their kids are watching and are involved in, as the messages from those things can make a huge difference in behavior, but also set good examples.
I remember years ago, seeing "Uncle Buck" in the theater when it first came out. Two boys sat in front of us. They were about 11 years old. During the scene where Uncle Buck punches a drunk clown in the face and he pops up like a clown doll, one boy in front of us turned to the other and punched the other one in the face and laughed. It was immediate. My boyfriend and I looked at each other and shook our heads. Ok, so that might not be such a big deal to some, but put into context the fact that this was at a time when kids didn’t have access to the most basal and low of the human condition online. A whole new world of resources is open to them and if parents are not careful, that can become a seriously dangerous thing.
I also remember a family who I worked with long ago and I found it amazing that the mom wanted to get done right on time so her 9 year old could go home to watch South Park. This was a delightful family and it didn't make sense to me that this mom would allow that, so I aksed the mom, "have you ever SEEN South Park?" She admitted she had not but said "that it was a cartoon so how bad could it be?" I asked her to go home and watch it by herself. The next week she came back and thanked me. She was amazed. She had no idea and assumed that because it was a cartoon, it was ok for kids. There are many more like that now, years later.
I realize I will hear from the crowd who thinks that talking is the "be all end all" and that punishment is an outdated concept, but Psyche 101 will tell you that if something is followed by a positive, it will be done again. If something is followed by a neutral stimulus, it won’t be avoided. If something is followed by a negative but appropriate, it will be far less attractive to do again. Simple. Keep in mind, however, consequences should teach at the same time.
So, here is my short answer to the question posed by a proud parent of one of the bus bullies: "Isn’t his being involved in this publicity, punishment enough?" I can honestly say that after watching Karen Klein crying while these ridiculously cruel children kept bullying her, watching her suffer, my answer is not in a million years!
Dr. Sherri is a Child and Family Processing and Motivation expert seeing people via webcam. For more info click here.