bullying language

Are high profile bullies the new role models for our kids?

Sending abusive text messages, calling people demeaning names, lying to discredit others, forcing people to toe the line and threatening them with payback if they won’t, singling people out for punishment because they're different – it all sounds like the actions of a typical schoolyard bully doesn’t it? And yet I’m not referring here to the behaviours of children, I’m talking about the behaviour of someone who should really be a role model for children - the President of the United States.

And he’s not alone – some of our own well-known sporting, media and political personalities are not averse to calling people names, making insinuations about others’ personal lives, texting and trolling people on-air or online, picking on those who can’t fight back, and a host of other actions which if they were exhibited by our kids, we’d be horrified by and try to stop. But the jeering cricketers and tennis players on our TV, the ranting shock jocks on our radios, the politicians trading insults with each other in parliament, the hate-filled internet trolls’ posts continuously scrolling on our phones, the violent sportspeople or actors on the news assaulting their partners – these seem to now be accepted as part and parcel of life in the 21st century.

And yet, when we shrug and make the decision to ignore or tacitly condone these bullying behaviours we’re not just making it for ourselves, we’re making the decision for our kids as well. They’re equally exposed to all of these things through the media every single day. So when the school calls you to tell you that your child has been bullying other students, how do you tell your son or daughter that it’s wrong and they shouldn’t do it, when all they have to do is point to the day’s headlines to demonstrate it’s the “new normal”? Even if we say it’s not ok and they accept that at face value, the disconnect between our words and the actions of these high profile people can’t fail to be confusing for them.

Are we failing an entire generation by allowing this to become the accepted standard of behaviour for our leaders and celebrities? How do we expect our kids to grow up to be the next generation of ethical business owners, politicians, sportspeople, teachers and lawyers if they have never learnt that it’s not ok to pick on and abuse others? Will they demonstrate all of these bullying behaviours towards their employees, voters, fans and audiences simply because that’s what they’ve grown up seeing and hearing around them and no-one’s called it out for what it is?

To me the only way we can fix this is to make sure our kids are educated in knowing what bullying behaviour looks like and how to make better decisions based on empathy and critical-thinking, rather than on fear, prejudice or intolerance. CCCSF is working towards delivering that sort of education model in primary schools. If kids can grow up knowing how to think through their actions before they take them, knowing what injustice feels like from someone else’s point of view, having the skills to communicate and think deeply in collaboration with others, then they’re not going to make the mistakes we’re currently trying to teach them to avoid on a whole range of youth issues, including bullying, alcohol and drugs, relationship violence and more.

Our new performance “Frenemies” for upper primary school students is just one way the Foundation is working to reduce the impact on children of the poor role models currently in action on the world stage. This interactive “Forum Theatre” performance on bullying gets kids thinking about the idea of empathy and how their behaviour can affect other people. It’s designed as a conversation starter where the kids themselves act out and discuss how they could address the issues. Our TRG performance “Isolation” covers similar ground about bullying and its impact, but is designed for an older secondary school youth audience.

Imagine if our kid’s current role models in the media spotlight had undertaken a program like these when they were in school and it had stuck with them. How different would our world be now if we were seeing behaviours worthy of emulation from our high profile individuals?

By David Gribble, Chief Executive Officer, Constable Care Child Safety Foundation

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