finding teachable moments about bullying from the U.S. presidential race

“When we have a new president, you and your family are going to be deported.”

This upsetting comment was one found in a list of commonly heard bullying phrases compiled by fifth graders in the Midwestern United States.

When 11- and 12-year-old students were asked what this statement meant, they did not know what “deported” meant. They did know that they’d heard the term in regards to the current U.S. presidential election, though. Students stated they heard people say comments like this in educational environments because politicians have said them on the TV at home.

What kids hear when they listen to today’s political news

Racial insults are not the only bad things uttered by political candidates, though — especially recently. Politicians yell, interrupt, call each other names and exemplify other bullying behaviors on the news and social media. And kids are watching and listening intently the entire time.

All 50 states in the U.S. currently have laws against bullying among young people. Nearly all schools have anti-bullying policies enforced by teaching students what bullying behavior is, how to recognize it, and what to do to prevent it. So students and teachers across the country are expressing concern that the bullying behavior among high-profile politicians is setting a poor example for today’s youth. They believe this type of bullying would not be allowed on a school campus.

In a recent CBS News article, Buffalo, New York School Administrator Will Keresztes stated that much of the political rhetoric would violate not only the district’s code of conduct, but it would also violate the state’s Dignity for all Students Act.

How do young people get their news?

Most students who were polled for the aforementioned list of bullying phrases reported that they learn what politicians say and what people think of them through social media platforms. These platforms include facebook, Instagram and Twitter. In fact, about 80 percent of these kids have their own facebook accounts, even though facebook’s policies restrict user profiles to those over the age of 13.

With nearly 75 percent of the U.S. population on facebook, it’s safe to say that most people reading this know that the comments, memes and shared websites on facebook are not always factual information. Yet, young people get their news from what they see on social media, and then mimic the less-than-upstanding behaviors of politicians currently in the spotlight.

What do educators think of politicians’ behavior?

A recent survey of approximately 2,000 teachers produced by the Southern Poverty Law Center indicates that the presidential campaign is having a profoundly negative impact on school children across the country. Educator Kelly Ann Carroll, teacher of the year in one of the largest school districts in Texas and parent of six children is seeing the effects of the campaign first hand. Here are her thoughts on the situation:

“I am ashamed at the example today’s politicians are giving American children. We see images of smiling government candidates of all stations promoting suicide prevention and anti-bullying policies to our children and school systems yet the cannot or refrain from acting worse than hazing frat boys on national television. The mud slinging occurs so frequently that children can’t help but be exposed.”

What can adults do to help students understand this info?

While the behavior of politicians on the news and social media can’t be controlled, schools and parents can use the examples of bullying as teachable moments with young people. Here are some lessons that can be taken from the presidential race:

  • Teach the power of social media and reputation.

In a South Dakota news report, school counselor Laura Meile said she teaches students that actions now have consequences down the road. Even though the Facebook and Twitter attacks seem to gain candidates a lot of attention, the act of posting negative things about someone online can cost both the attacked person and the attacker opportunities in the future. “We remind students this can follow you, and this doesn’t go away,” Meile said. “Colleges may look at it, and employers will look at it, also.”

  • Talk about appropriate behavior.

Additionally, the current political climate gives adults the opportunity to talk to young people about appropriate behavior when the bullied child hasn’t done anything to provoke it. It provides a platform to talk about bullying, fighting fair, being honest and being a good role model.

In a TODAY show article on talking to kids about politics, Dr. Deborah Gilboa says, “Our kids and teens will all see plenty of adults in the spotlight who behave badly, from favored athletes to celebrities. It’s worth talking about these choices so that our children can use those examples to guide their own good choices.”

  • Give kids the tools to deal with bullying and negative behavior.

When discussing inappropriate behavior online and in person, adults have the opportunity to give young people the tools to deal with bullying. Anti-bullying expert and Founder of the Hey U.G.L.Y. organization Betty Hoeffner says that providing students with a standard response to bullying behavior is a key tool for dealing with negative situations.

Hoeffner teaches students that the biggest reasons people bully is because they are hurting themselves. Because of this, a good standard response to a bully is: “Who’s treating you so mean that you have to be mean to me?” This takes the power away from the bully by forcing them to look at their own feelings. Imagine if politicians today responded to each other with that remark!

In addition to a standard remark, students should also be taught steps to take to deal with cyberbullying. Hey U.G.L.Y. provides some suggestions for this here.

  • Provide kids with ways to report bullying incidents.

Research from Hawkins, Pepler & Craig in 2001 shows that 57 percent of bullying situations stop when a peer intervenes on the victim’s behalf. Students who witness bullying or who are being bullied themselves need to know how to anonymously report the situation without fear that retaliation will happen.

Make sure students know who they can talk to at the school about bullying issues. If your school has online reporting tools, such as Impero Education Pro’s Confide function, then make sure students have a clear idea of how to use them. Finally, let students know they can call the tipline at their local police department about bullying, and the call will be completely confidential.

Today’s political race shows student safety is more important than ever

Mudslinging and attention-grabbing behavior has been and may always be part of political campaigns. Regardless, upholding a school’s policies, values and student safety is important. Utilizing real-life situations to provide teachable moments helps students to feel safe, have open communication, be unique and become future leaders.

“Knowledge — that is, education, in its true sense — is our best protection against unreasoning prejudice and panic-making fear, whether engendered by special interest, illiberal minorities or panic-stricken leaders.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States

Impero Education Pro software helps schools facilitate digital safety by monitoring for issues such as  bullying, suicidal behavior, eating disorders, weapons and violence. To talk to our team of education experts, call 877.883.4370, or email Impero now to arrange a call back.

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