Sunday, June 24, 2012

Thoughts on the bus

Doubtless you've heard or seen the news story about the 13 year old boys who drove a 68 year old bus monitor to tears with their rude comments.

It was interesting to follow the story and how people responded to it as it developed. Early on, people were tossing around stuff like "This is what our culture has become" and "These kids are dead inside" and "How uninvolved must their parents be, for them to be able to do this?"

And I admit, the comment about sticking a knife in her belly was pretty horrifying. (And I thought the kids were GIRLS at first, but then again, that might be my experience speaking).

My reaction was a little different: "These kids are 13. Thirteen is a BRUTAL age to be. Thirteen year olds can be so mindlessly cruel it will amaze you."

I remember being 13. I remember the hatefulness I got from my classmates - and I remember, to my shame, doling out some hatefulness myself, mostly to kids less-popular than I was. That's one of the things I will never understand as an adult, and about which I fully expect to be sternly questioned On The Other Side. I don't KNOW why I did it. I look at it know and I'm horrified by it: how could I be so nasty to another kid, especially when I knew what it was like to be called rude names and be belittled myself?

I guess the only explanation is that 13 year olds can be really, really immature. They know what to say to hurt someone's feelings, but they've not yet developed the tact or compassion to not want to say it. And they want to be accepted by their peers, sometimes at almost any cost.

That said, I don't remember being that openly cruel to an adult. Oh, my classmates and I tried to goof on substitutes when we had them, and probably contributed to the early burnout of some substitute teachers (and again: why did I do that? I suppose it was because I felt taking part might win me a few moments of acceptance from the "pack," and might temporarily deflect the teasing away from me). But regular people - bus drivers and hall monitors and teachers, generally I was pretty respectful of them.

I do think the whole pack mentality was another thing that came into play in this incident. It's a pretty powerful feeling as a teen (and sometimes even as an adult) to want to fit in with the group and be part of the "pack." And it can drive you to do things you wouldn't ordinarily do - things that, in the quiet of your own room later, you (even as a teen) smack your forehead and go, "Why was I so STUPID?"

All of that said: what those boys did was wrong and cruel. (Though my own grandma, if they had done it to her? She was a pretty tough lady and I bet she would have figured out a way to make those boys regret what they had said and even cry "uncle"). It's really ugly to hear what they're doing to the lady, and it made me cringe and recoil.

However, I don't think - unlike some commentators I've heard - that these kids should be sent to Juvie. That will only teach them to be meaner and more violent. I suspect in a way, some of them have already suffered the best discipline they could have: the public embarrassment of being revealed in their cruelty, of people saying things like, "What kind of a coward bullies a 68 year old lady?" And it sounds like, in at least one case, the parents are going to make sure the kid thinks twice before doing something like this again.

I do think putting the kids off the bus - I don't know how much more of their school year remains, but put them off the bus for the rest of the year, and maybe the first half of the next year - so they can think about what they did might be a valid idea. Yes, the parents are taxpayers and they pay for the bus service. But I think these things should STILL be viewed as a privilege and not a right, and by behaving badly, the boys violated their privilege.

Or make them get up and publicly apologize to the lady, and talk about how what they did was wrong.

I don't think these kids are "lost," unlike what some commentators are saying. I think they do have the capacity to become "lost," if no one intervenes and teaches them, or if they face no consequences of what they did - but from what I've seen, that may not be the case here. It's possible for people who are pretty nasty teenagers to grow up to be decent adults if they are molded a bit and are shown some discipline.

The other thing: I don't think they were that much worse than kids were 30 years ago when I was that age. Riding the bus when I was a kid was brutal and I have blocked much of that time out of my memory - stuff like getting your lunch and homework stolen, or being refused a seat, or being called really awful, dreadful names or having ugly things said to your face: that's kind of part and parcel of the bus ride for middle schoolers, and it's been that way for a long time. Would the nasty kids on my bus have bullied a grandmotherly bus monitor? Some of them might have; some of them were pretty rude to the driver. Which is why I'm not quite so quick to say that these kids' action is a symptom of society suddenly becoming much worse or more violent. I don't know if thirteen year olds in the 1920s or 1870s or 1730s were as rude and unpleasant as they were in the 1980s, but I know thirteen year olds were pretty awful when I was one myself....I could be pretty awful as a 13 year old. So I don't think it's that "everything is suddenly worse," I think it's more "For all our talk of anti-bullying efforts, there still will be bullies." They may just turn on different people...

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