There have been very few times in my life that I have ever been as appalled and horrified as I am today after watching a video of 12 and 13 year old children savagely tormenting Karen Huff Klein, a 68 year old school bus monitor. The unspeakable incident took place on the school bus and it involved students from the Athena Middle School in the town of Greece, a suburb of Rochester, New York. The identity of the culprits remains confidential due to their young age.
As a journalist, I write about some awful things from time to time. War, death and suffering have become part of my life. I am usually able to maintain objectivity and control my emotions. Today is different. Today I watched children turn on a defenseless, elderly woman and attack her with nothing but words. Words that were spoken with such malice and hatred that they might as well have been bullets.
I observed these children rend this woman’s spirit and reduce her to tears for their own entertainment. They ridiculed her, they insulted her and they punished her mercilessly for 10 full minutes and not one person on the bus spoke one single word in her defense. Not one of the 30 plus students or even the bus driver came to this woman’s aid. After what must have felt like an eternity of torment, all she said was, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
And they continued to laugh at her and resumed the attack. They told her that “her family hated her and her family would rather kill themselves than be near her.” Did they even know or care that this kind, harmless woman lost her son to suicide ten years ago? Would they have still said it if they had known? After watching the entire episode, I am disgusted to say, I think they would have.
I can not imagine the pain that this woman must have felt at that moment. I can not comprehend what kind of a child could be so numb and empty to treat any human being like these kids did. What has happened to America? Has our nation lost its soul?
There are no easy answers. I am as mystified about what is happening to our children as you probably are. I wonder if they even know the difference between right and wrong anymore. I wonder if these kids are still fully human inside.
I know this. It is time for ever parent in America to watch the video of this incident and then watch it again with their children. See how they react and let your parental instincts guide you. Talk about it with them afterwards, because talk to them you must.
Teach them right from wrong. Let them know in a kind but firm way that you, as their parent, will never tolerate or excuse that kind of cruelty from your child. Tell your children that you want them to be the person who would step in and defend the woman. Let them know that a person of character and courage would never sit by and watch, while a helpless human being was made to suffer.
Abdicating responsibility to others is certainly not the answer. Teachers, guidance counselors, psychiatrists or mentors are not a substitute for parenting. You are the one who should mold your child and teach them the values they need. If you are there for them, they will know it and if you are not there for them, they will always remember it.
Being a loving, involved parent, who spends time with their kids, teaches them and guides them, sets the rules and declares the limits, is not an easy job. But there is no reward in life that can ever equal the pride a parent feels as they watch their son or daughter grow into an adult who has respect for others and kindness in their heart. I pray you are blessed with children that make you proud and I pray that every child has parents who will love them and guide them in their journey through life.
An op-ed By Wolff Bachner