Keaton Jones is the most famous middle schooler in the country. He’s also the most infamous. His story went mega-viral after his mother, Kimberly, filmed her son describing the bullying he faced from his peers at the lunch table. Through his tears, Keaton looked into the camera and explained that his bullies make fun of him for his nose, call him ugly, tell him that he has no friends, and pour milk on him. It’s a sad and personal story that, for some reason, Keaton’s mother wanted millions of people to hear. And they did hear it. And they felt really bad for Keaton.
For like five minutes.
The video was shared millions of times. Basically all of the celebrities in the country came out in defense of the young man. Every famous person from Snoop Dogg to Katy Perry to Justin Bieber to Mark Hamill lined up to send an inspirational message of support. The story especially resonated with athletes, as Lebron James and sports stars from across the spectrum chimed in. Keaton now has a standing invitation to attend dozens of different games and other special events. Or had, anyway.
A GoFundMe for Keaton has already raised over $50,000. There is now a scholarship fund in the works, in addition to the GoFundMe. It’s not clear why the kid needs 50 grand or how that will help with the bullying, but never mind. Sean Hannity promised to call the school himself to sort out the problem. He publicly called for the firing of “people” if the situation isn’t “fixed,” despite not knowing a single thing about the situation, aside from what he saw in a two-minute video from one of the kids involved. But nobody objected. Keaton was the hero of the moment.
And the moment passed in a hurry.
With fame comes scrutiny, which is why we should always be suspicious of parents who want fame for their kids. Literally nothing good can come of it. And, for Keaton, nothing did. Within hours, internet detectives had researched Keaton’s family and found a “racist” post on Kimberly’s Facebook page. Then rumors began to circulate that Keaton was bullied for making racist remarks to his classmates. The backfire began quickly and inevitably.
It should be noted that Kimberly Jones has since deleted her Facebook. It should also be noted that she didn’t delete her PayPal account where she is currently accepting donations.
Earlier this morning, before the “Keaton is a racist” narrative began, I took to Twitter to confess that I’m uncomfortable with turning a story of middle school bullying into a national issue. I was criticized pretty harshly for raining on the inspirational parade. Unfortunately, I was vindicated within hours.
Here are some lessons we can hopefully take from the story of Keaton Jones, a young man who certainly does not deserve to be at the center of a national firestorm:
1. Bullying dynamics aren’t that simple.
This isn’t a movie. Kids don’t divide themselves into neat little “Bully” vs “Victim” classes. There is a lot of crossover. I have no idea why Keaton was bullied. Neither do you. Certainly, bullying is not justified no matter what the victim did or didn’t do. But it’s not always the case that the bully is a hideous monster and the victim is an innocent snowflake. It could be, but not necessarily — and not likely. And, anyway, none of us have any idea about the circumstances surrounding Keaton Jones. Which is why this issue never should have been presented to the public. We never should have known about any of this. We never should have been involved — by the child’s mother — in a situation that can only be handled by Keaton Jones, his mother, his classmates, their parents, and the school. None of us fall into any of those categories.
2. You don’t help bullied kids by making a huge, massive deal out of it.
I’m not saying that bullying isn’t a big deal. But when a child comes to you complaining about mistreatment at school, it is not wise to respond by screaming, “DEAR GOD WE MUST TELL THE WORLD.” The child already thinks it’s a big deal. He already imagines that he has suffered unthinkable persecution. Our job as parents is to put things into perspective for him. To empower him. To let him know that it doesn’t matter what those other kids say. His worth is not tied to their opinion of him. Sadly, I think that message is undermined when parents literally make a federal case and national news out of bullying.
The motto we repeated to our kids used to be: “Sticks and stones may break your bones but words will never hurt you.” Now we’d say that such a philosophy only perpetuates abuse. We’ve changed it to: “Sticks and stones may break your bones but if you hear unkind words I’ll call for a congressional hearing.” It’s great that we’re all concerned about bullying, but our panicked response is not helping. They aren’t learning how to cope. They aren’t learning perspective. They aren’t learning resiliency. They aren’t learning anything worthwhile.
3. We’re never going to “solve” bullying.
This is a fact of human nature. It’s been with us since the Fall of Man. It’s especially apparent in modern schools because we’ve packed hundreds of kids into a building for eight hours a day with only a few dozen adults to split between them. If you think you’re ever going to “fix” the bullying problem among poorly supervised children who are squeezed into claustrophobic spaces with each other for hours at a time, you’re delusional.
What we can do is equip our kids to handle these difficult interactions when they occur. In the bad old days, kids were able to defend themselves physically if a bully really got out of line. We’ve now ruled that out — thanks to zero tolerance policies — so the only other option is to instill confidence and moral courage into our kids. I’m not accusing young Keaton of lacking either characteristic. He could have both in abundance. I’m just addressing the bullying issue in general terms here.
4. We don’t help our kids by making them internet famous.
Now I am speaking more specifically about Keaton’s situation. Call me cynical, but I can see only exploitation in the decision to put your child’s most vulnerable and distressing moments on the internet for public consumption. If your child is distressed, comfort him. Talk to him. Discuss it with him. I just don’t see where “film and post it on Facebook and then set up a Pay Pal” fits into that process. And I don’t see how that thought could ever enter the mind of a parent with good and loving intentions.
Keaton’s mother wanted attention. She got it. And it was the last thing Keaton needed.