How Do You Bully A Grandmother?

I’m late on this because I spent yesterday travelling and when I logged on this morning to see the viral video of the grandmother, Karen Klein, being tortured I was appalled. This video is so horrible that I couldn’t even watch the entire thing. I wanted to cry. And much like the mother who choked the teenager bullying her daughter, I wanted to choke those boys.

How do you ridicule a grandmother? A completely innocent elderly lady. The things they say to her are shameless. They even go so far as to say that her children should commit suicide. Even when she starts to cry, they continue.

Everyone is asking, what is wrong with these kids? How do you explain such horrible behavior? Do we blame the parents? The media? Where does this lack of empathy come from? Are these kids monsters? And why doesn’t anyone try to stop these boys? What about the other kids on the bus?

As horrible as this situation was, it proves what social psychologists have known for years. Strange things happen when groups of people get together.  The group exerts a rather perplexing, but incredibly strong influence on individual behavior. The group is powerful.

How many times have you heard of someone getting raped, killed, or hurt in broad daylight and wondered why nobody did anything to help? Have you heard of the bystander effect? Countless studies have showed that having other people around decreases helping behavior. It diffuses personal responsibility. Everyone is assuming someone else will help. The Holocaust is probably one of our best examples. The most famous case is the one of Kitty Genovese who was murdered in the streets of Chicago while she screamed for help. Numerous people watched, but nobody called the police.

People will do things in groups that they would never do as an individual. It’s called the herd mentality. The likelihood of one of these boys terrorizing this woman by themselves is pretty slim, but the likelihood increases greatly when their peers are engaged in the behavior. We follow the crowd. Our desire to belong often overrides our desire to be a good person.

These explanations don’t make this event any better or any less terrible. They do help provide us with a framework to begin trying to understand how and why this behavior occurred. And if you’re like me, you’re always looking for these kinds of answers whenever something seemingly inexplainable and reprehensible occurs.

P.S. We made it!



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7 Responses to How Do You Bully A Grandmother?

  1. Rach says:

    Glad you two made it safely and in one piece. Gus looks so happy. :)

    My husband often says, “I hate people. Individuals I like, but not people.” He’s right. Collective groups with that herd mentality can be very difficult to navigate.

    I’m not defending those young men and what they did at all (I’m so appalled and horrified I couldn’t watch the video), but I’m willing to bet that individually they are most likely nice boys. What they did is disgusting and reprehensible (to bully her about her son who had committed suicide is unconscionable).

    Enjoy your family time!

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Thanks, Rach. I couldn’t get through the entire video either I found it so deplorable.

  2. Mama Bear says:

    It’s good to read an intelligent analysis of this issue. Karen Klein is a great role model for all of us. The 7th graders I know seem pretty innocent as individuals but they lose themselves into group dynamics like you said. Some of the oblivious egocentrism of childhood fades and they develop a respect for group values, but unfortunately it’s an immature group.
    Adults will self righteously exclude people from our own groups who don’t fit in with our values-sometimes for good reason, sometimes for petty or self serving reasons. Maybe if we examine our own behavior, realizing that our kids tend to reveal our own hidden foibles in an exaggerated way, we could begin to tackle these issues thoughtfully rather than self-righteously.
    It’s interesting that we have an ‘epidemic’ of Aspergers on our hands that we desperately want to fix, yet from what I read, people with Aspergers don’t bully others and even speak up for the underdog. Maybe we should reconsider some of our values and social ‘norms’.

  3. Another child psychologist says:

    I may be wrong, but if I recall correctly, I think Kitty Genovese was actually killed in New York. Not that this changes the message behind your post. It is also worth noting that in addition to providing a framework for understanding the behavior, there is some research suggesting that you can use the bystander effect to INCREASE helping behavior…

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Thanks for your comments and you’re right. She was killed in New York. It wasn’t Chicago.

  4. Pingback: Amanda Todd Was Not Bullied |

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