“You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught”

April 3rd, 2019

Students at an anti bullying rally in Sioux City, Iowa

You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear
You’ve got to be taught from year to year
It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught
Richard Rodgers from “South Pacific”

Update February 2nd, 2021- I wrote this nearly two years ago. This was before the election of 2020, the violent insurrection at the United States Capitol, but in the middle of what I saw as a huge divide in this country, cyberbullying by adults on a level that was the worst I’d seen. I feared what came next. I wrote this for adults with kids, but it’s essentially it’s for all of us. My niece getting cyberbullied today triggered me to revisit this piece. I grow weary of the hate.

As school bullying became a hot button issue and one that was vital to address, Waitt Institute for Violence Prevention supported the 2012 documentary “Bully”, as well as ramping up our anti bullying and anti violence programs on the ground.

The adoption of many excellent programs across the country may well be working, as we’ve seen incidents of on site school bullying decrease.
The percentage of 12- to 18-year-olds who reported bullying incidents in 2015 was 20.8 percent. That’s nearly 11 percent lower than the 31.7 percent of students who reported bullying incidents in 2007.

But America, we’ve got a problem.

And it’s us. It’s not just in school. It’s not just kids. It’s everywhere and adults are joining in in full force, online and elsewhere. And for the first time in my 25 years of violence prevention work, it’s scaring the hell out of me.

What I wrote in Huffington Post in 2012 is this “That the Internet has come to represent our world, both at its best and at its worst, this isn’t surprising, but couldn’t we raise the level of the discourse beyond targeting each other? ”

For some, apparently not. We haven’t taken discourse up a notch, we’ve taken it down. Cyber bullying of youth, on the rise in the past 7 years, can and does harm and even kill children. No one wants their child harmed in this way, but while we want this to stop, we’ve ratcheted it up as adults and the targets are other adults.

In an excellent piece by Dr. Glenn Gaher in Psychology Today, he uses data to support just how polarized we’ve become.

Not surprisingly, hate crimes are on the rise as well.

It’s a mean, mean, mean world out there right now, and it doesn’t seem to be getting kinder any time soon. So, what can we do?

We can do this, for one. Ross Ellis states” Parents also play a role in preventing bullying behavior by modeling empathy, respect, and kindness toward others. Parents first model how to treat others by how they treat their own children. “When kids know they can count on their parents and caregivers for emotional and physical support, they are more likely to show empathy to others,” (Ellis, 2016).

And this.The same piece also states “In addition, children are more likely to mimic a behavior if they see the behavior positively reinforced (Rymanowicz, 2015).
https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/monkey_see_monkey_do_model_behavior_in_early_childhood When a negative behavior is rewarded over a positive behavior, the negative behavior is reinforced. For instance if a child hears an adult making a racial slur, and another adult laughs, what has the child learned? In contrast, what if the child hears the second adult calmly respond that the slur was offensive and ask the person to not use that language?”

Parents and mentors can do much. But we can’t control how some of our leaders and some in the media name call, demonize, belittle, obstruct, and through psychological and emotional abuse, become cheerleaders for anger in America.

I’ve heard stories of families no longer speaking to each other because of political party and ideology. I’ve seen old friends who have protracted and disturbing battles with each other ad nauseam. Chances are, you’ve seen it too.

We can look away. We can refuse to join in. We can recognize that children follow our lead, and be more careful.

Or we can be left, as I am right now, in a place I’ve rarely found myself, wondering if it will ever get better before it gets worse.

Cindy Waitt, a former social worker, is the Executive Director of the Waitt Institute for Violence Prevention and the Executive Producer of the Emmy nominated “Bully”, HBO’s “Private Violence” , and the award winning “Audrie and Daisy’>



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