Well, it has happened. Our schools and youth serving organizations have invested millions trying to teach our children to respect their peers and avoid using degrading and hurtful language in conversation. Yet in a matter of months, Republican Donald Trump, who is vying for the White House, has systematically sucked the moral code of common decency clear through the drain and into the sewer. Thus, this article’s name, Trump Sump, explores the negative impact that Mr. Trump’s statements and behaviors are having upon the youth in America.
Sadly, children are watching and learning
We know that the Trump phenomenon is unprecedented, and, according to some people, he’s very exciting, too. The sad news, however, is that our
children are watching…and learning from this, also. “Build the wall, build the wall!” That was a chant heard last month at a high school basketball game in Indiana from kids from a majority-white school playing a team from a predominately Latino community. The so-called “Trump effect” is now being played out in school yards across the country. Teachers and school administrators are dealing with reports of random statements from some students that are directed toward their fellow classmates such as, “You’ll be deported when Trump becomes president,” and, “Are you living in this country illegally?” The never-ending barrage of vitriolic, off-the-cuff, utterances spewing from Mr. Trump has sadly given rise and license to xenophobic, bigoted and racist behaviors among noticeable numbers of some of America’s youth, including adults.
Teach Your Children
Oh, the things we teach our children. The song and lyrics of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s, “Teach Your Children,” starts playing in my mind every time I read a headline or watch this Republican presidential candidate hurling insults at anyone who dares to challenge his viewpoints. Clearly, the song’s opening line of, “You, who are on the road, must have a code that you can live by,” has been totally lost on Mr. Trump. Forget the debates before network and cable TV’s heavy hitters, I want to see Mr. Trump appear before an audience of middle and high school aged peer leaders to explain himself for his deplorable public behavior.
Our school-based anti-bullying programs, including components that teach appropriate personal and civic behavior among students, are suddenly in stark contrast to what students are now seeing, hearing and learning from Mr. Trump on the campaign trail. Teachers, however, are hard-pressed to say anything, or teach otherwise, without appearing politically biased one way or the other. But slowly as the foul-mouthed rhetoric deepens with each passing week, and now with incidents of sporadic violence erupting at Trump rallies, more parents are now beginning to speak out that enough is enough.
In addition to being a billionaire, rumor has it that Donald Trump is also an intelligent person. But apparently, he isn’t smart enough, or perhaps he’s too rich and arrogant to care, that his surly demeanor and snarky, hurtful comments are setting a poor example for young people across America and damaging many people along the way.
“Are you proud of that, Mr. Trump?”
Last month NPR’s Cokie Roberts, in an interview with Mr. Trump, tried her best to get the presidential candidate to focus on the impact that his messaging was having upon children. Roberts named a number of well documented incidents that occurred at his rallies and statements that originated with Mr. Trump. Roberts asked Trump bluntly, “Are you proud of that, Mr. Trump?” But Trump would have none of that line of questioning and instead responded with, “Well, I think your question is a very nasty question.” From there Mr. Trump launched into his robotic lines of “We’re going to make America great again.” It’s hard not to conclude that he just doesn’t get it, nor does he seem to care.
Mr. Trump’s horribly offensive choice of words regarding woman are especially troubling. Having spent a career working closely with teens who have taken negative media messages about their bodies and their sense of worth to damaging levels within, I am especially worried about Trump’s messaging upon girls. Middle and high school-aged young women are without doubt, hearing and seeing more of Trump’s twisted views than their parents’ realize. And here’s why:
As adults, we get the sordid details of Mr. Trump’s rants on radio and TV news and manage to filter them through and dismiss it for what it is. Teen-aged girls, however, get some of this news too, and far more in their steady diet of social media. They hear and see snippets of what Mr. Trump has said about their gender in negative terms online and say little. On the surface girls may appear unfazed, but, so much of it can also settle into dark places that seldom gets mentioned. Ironically, just recently one of Donald Trump’s daughters asked her father to start acting more presidential. Now one wonders why she dared to say what she did. As a woman, I’m betting that she knows, and knows too well.
Parents should pay attention
Counteracting the negative media that our children receive could be a full-time job, I realize. But parents and other adults who work closely with children and teens would be wise to pay closer attention to high-profile political figures like Trump and his ilk, and to look for ways to have a heart-to-heart discussion about how they really feel about this candidate in particular. Why? Because in addition to the concerns mentioned above, Mr. Trump is rich, “really rich,” as he likes to say of himself. In the media Trump also appears confident while projecting an aggressive, “large-and-in-charge,” public persona. It’s baffling and also disturbing, but many teens and especially girls, are taking it all in.
These characteristics exhibited by Mr. Trump and what he has said about woman in particular may be viewed by mature adults as abhorrent, but many young people pay particular attention to people like this and actually look up to them. (A few bad-boy celebrities, rappers and pro-athletes should come to mind right now.) We as adults may get it, but our kids and the teens we work with may not. So have that heart-to-heart with the kids in your house. And if you are working professionally with youth, make the “Trump Sump” the focus of a wider discussion about where we “put” degrading and hurtful messages when we hear them in our lives, especially from people who ought to know better.
Graphic artwork created exclusively for Rise This Day by Ma. Shayne Krizel Zalameda.