By Dr. Laura Finley
(Editor’s Note: This blog was written for the Humanity Project by Dr. Laura Finley, Vice President of the Humanity Project Board of Directors. Dr. Finley is Assistant Professor of Sociology and Criminology at Barry University.)
Teaching young people to be kind to one another is critical to preventing bullying. Yet too often, adults fail to model kindness and civility. Instead adults yell at, interrupt and insult one another, not just in private but in very public domains as well. From media to popular culture, sports to politics, adults are failing to demonstrate the attitudes and behaviors we want of our children and youth. Many of today’s media pundits, both conservative and liberal, operate in constant attack mode. They invite guests onto their shows only to interrupt and insult them. Having the last word seems to matter more than treating others, even those with whom you disagree, with dignity and respect. The plethora of media opportunities, from traditional news outlets to social networking and beyond, make the incivility ubiquitous.
Popular culture is full of meanness. Television shows and movies depict characters who pick fights with their friends, talk behind their backs, and act sassy, at best, with their families. Some athletes talk trash to their competitors and even berate teammates and coaches. Likewise, many fans think it is perfectly acceptable to yell nasty things and hold up awful signs at events simply because they favor one team over another. The political realm is one of the worst, in particular during this heated election season. Candidates and their supporters berate their opponents, attacking them in very personal ways. Again, this incivility is not specific to one political party but seems endemic to the campaign itself. All this should leave a nasty taste in our mouths. It results in anger and apathy, depression and disinterest. And it should prompt some very deep reflection on the part of adults, who so often demonize young people as the problem.
So, what can we do? First, adults need to demand better of ourselves. There are different models for media, popular culture, sports and politics. We can demand that people in those positions use those alternate models. And we do so, in part, through our votes. In the literal sense, that is, but also in terms of what we choose to watch and consume. By choosing to view other media, television, movies, and sports teams we are telling the uncivil ones that we don’t like their behavior. Done in critical mass, we can make huge change. Importantly, we can move toward consistency between what we tell our young people and how we actually behave.