By Larry Magid
I don’t usually comment on politics but I do write a lot about cyberbullying, which is a subject I do know something about as the CEO of ConnectSafely.org and founder of SafeKids.com. And, I’m afraid to say, that the Republican presidential front-runner is clearly guilty of cyberbullying. I say that not to comment on his fitness to be President but on his status as a public figure and as a negative role model for America’s youth.
He’s far from the only adult guilty of displaying bad behavior in public, but – at the moment at least – he’s the most visible example.
Most experts in the field of bullying agree on a definition that includes aggressive behavior that involves unwanted, negative actions, pattern of behavior repeated over time and an imbalance of power or strength. We call it cyberbullying when it is carried out via electronic media including email, chat, text messaging, social media and – I would add – radio or television.
Many have expanded the definition of cyberbullying to also include comments that are racist, sexist, or hateful to any group.
Repeatedly and aggressively saying that you would deny an entire religion entry into the country certainly qualifies as a form of bullying as is lying about a group such as falsely claiming that he witnessed “thousands and thousands” of Muslims cheering as the World Trade Center came down. He also made disparaging remarks about fellow candidate Ben Carson’s religion.
Demeaning comments about other people is also a form of bullying whether that’s criticizing the hair of fellow presidential candidate Rand Paul or the appearance of candidate Carly Fiorina or saying the Fox’s presidential debate moderator Megan Kelly had “Blood coming out of her wherever.”
I bring this up not to join the crowd piling on against Mr. Trump. There are plenty of politicians and political pundits happy to comment on his fitness as a candidate or potential president. My concern has to do with his potential impact on America’s young people, most of whom are very well acquainted with his antics.
Other bad role models
One of the primary strategies for combatting bullying and cyberbullying among youth is for adults to model appropriate behavior. Young people do pay attention to how adults behave. In fact, they pay a lot more attention to how we behave than how we tell them to behave.
It’s not just Mr. Trump I worry about. There are other politicians who have ridiculed or lied about their opponents and there are plenty of adults outside of politics who behave badly in front of kids. WebMD points out that the “problem of teachers bullying students is more common than you think.” The website cites a study by Stuart Twemlow, MD, a psychiatrist at the Menninger Clinic in Houston who said that “45% (of teachers surveyed) admitted to having bullied a student.” I was repeatedly bullied by a gym teacher when I was in high school.
Anyone who has been following the news has heard about cases of police bullying. I’m not just talking about the occasional shootings, but the culture that has infected some police departments around the country that tolerates bullying behavior by some officers. I’m not suggesting that most police engage in bullying behavior, but it is not unheard of among these adults who are supposed to not only enforce positive social norms but model them as well.
Even some parents bully their own children despite the love they may have for their kids.
Plus bullying is all over television and is omnipresent in some reality shows and sitcoms.
Adult online harassment
And it’s not just kids who cyberbully. While about 20% of teens say they have been cyberbullied at some point in their life, the percentage of adults who say they have been harassed online is even higher. A 2014 Pew Research Center survey found that 40 percent of adult Internet users said they had been harassed online, and nearly three-quarters — 73 percent — said they had seen someone being harassed. Young adults have it worse: Nearly two-thirds — 65 percent — of Internet users age 18 to 29 have been the target of at least one type of harassment. More than a quarter (26%) of women between 18 and 24 have been stalked online, and 25% were the target of online sexual harassment.
Be an upstander, not a bystander
It’s time for everyone to stop being a bystander when it comes to public bullying. Whether it’s a political candidate, actors in a TV show, public officials or authorities or anyone else, it’s up to all of us to be upstanders and when it comes to objecting to uncivil behavior and modeling kindness and decency in our own behavior.