Are Kids Getting Meaner? Video of Karen The Bus Monitor Raises Questions

The story of Karen Klein, a 68-year-old bus monitor who was tormented by a group of young bullies in a video that went viral earlier this week, has become a conversation point for many, particularly those who work in bully prevention.

The video, that shows four Grade 7 boys taunting Klein to the point of tears with insults and names, has garnered so much outrage and sympathy from the community that a fund set up by Torontonian Max Sidorov to send Klein on a "dream vacation" currently stands at a whopping $500,000 dollars, reports the National Post.

Watch the video of Klein and the bullies below:

Perplexed viewers of the video might wonder why the kids behaved the way they did. And parents, in particular, might wonder how to prevent their children from behaving the same way. Should this video be used as a teachable lesson? And how do parents deal with children who participate in this kind of assault?

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Wendy Craig, a professor of psychology at Queen's University and co-leader of PREVNet (Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network), a network to stop bullying in Canada, says a couple of factors contributed to this particular instance of bullying. In the first place, bullying happens when there's little supervision, she says, and the school bus is one of those places. Ironically, bus monitors are in place to prevent instances of bullying.

"I think the second thing that happened was … people were getting reinforced for doing the bullying," explains Craig. "Other kids were joining in, they were watching, they were silently cheering on. And so that becomes very arousing and very reinforcing. That's what kept the children going."

Craig says this episode is a prime example of how bullying can happen to anyone, anywhere, regardless of age and that all kids must learn to understand the role they have in perpetuating it.

"No child stepped in," she says.  "It would have been very hard, in that dynamic, to step in. But nobody did. The bus driver didn't pull over, and lots of things that should have happened to protect this poor woman didn't happen."

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When asked about whether bullying has increased as a problem over the years, Craig cites the national  Health Behaviour Survey of Children and Youth, which indicates the problem has stayed relatively stable over the years.

"The good news is, it’s not getting worse, the bad news is, we’re not getting better at stopping children from doing it."

Talking to your child about the different roles they can play when bullying happens is a great way to teach them how to behave in a situation like this, says Craig. Standing by and doing nothing is akin to participating in the act. And while she acknowledges it might be difficult for a child to stand up to the perpetrators in an instance such as this, an easier step might be to alert the bus driver of the very serious situation at hand. Craig urges parents to challenge their children to think about what kind of person they want to be.

"What are some strategies you can engage in if you see bullying?" she cites as an example of a conversation point. "What are strategies that are going to keep you safe and support the person who's being vulnerable? And I'd challenge them to think about, are you part of the problem or are you part of the solution?"

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Craig believes that rather than using this video as a teaching moment for children, she would sooner see parents show their kids videos of positive role models.

"I'd rather find a role model, a YouTube video of a kid standing up for somebody. Helping them to see the behaviours that we want them to engage in, that we want them to repeat, and we want them to see the benefits of."

As for the four kids from Greece, New York, Craig thinks they have to take responsibility for what they did. They must acknowledge it, name it, and make repairs in the way of letters of apology, says Craig. She also suggests an educational component, like doing volunteer work with seniors, so they can understand that seniors are people, too.

And despite all the recent media attention on bullying, statistics on bullying have remained stagnant over the years, says Craig. Check out PREVNet's Facts page for specific numbers.