American history has had some great presidents and some not-so-great presidents. Today we have one of our most significant challenges: Donald Trump, or what some children call the “Big Orange Monster.” Before Trump, some of us were oblivious to politics and domestic affairs. According to a Pew Research poll conducted in July 2017 “58 percent of women say they are more interested in politics since November, compared to 46 percent of men. Overall, 52 percent of Americans say their interest in politics has spiked since the election.” Unfortunately, so have their levels of stress and anxiety.
Since November 2016, we, the American people, have been fearful of what the coming months and years will bring. We are experiencing an overwhelming amount of stress from the onslaught of problems President Trump has poured into our daily lives. Whether it be from his bigoted rhetoric, threats to freedom of speech, countless scandals, or racist comments. We have all become a victim of the president’s actions, in other words, the “Trump Effect.”
Doctors Rosemary Sword and Phillip Zimbardo, authors of Psychology Today, originally defined the damages of the Trump Effect as a rise in school bullying inspired by rhetoric Trump used during his campaign. Furthermore, Maureen Costello, of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance program, conducted a nationwide survey of two thousand K-12 teachers during March and April 2016, which revealed that the campaign had “profoundly negative effect on children and classrooms.” Adding that “a disturbing nationwide problem, one that is particularly acute in schools with high concentrations of minority children.” Costello concluded that since the 2016 U.S. presidential election, there been an alarming spike in hate crimes and use of bigoted statements at schools, causing an increase in children’s anxiety and bullying on school-yard.
It’s common practice for educators and parents to encourage students to pay close attention to the news during the elections, to follow the candidates carefully, and even encourage their kids to admire the president. But when reality star and real-estate mogul Donald Trump became president, educators and parents were not only shocked but conflicted. Many were short for words and ways to explain how the president of the United States, is the same man that called women “fat pigs,” had several sexual allegations, and thinks Mexicans are rapists and drug dealers. So how have educators and parents been handling the Trump Effect?
Kyle Redford, a fifth-grade teacher at Marin Country Day School and writer for the Huffington Post, said that she had forgotten to address the “elephant in the room.” It wasn’t until a colleague reported that her elementary students were feeling anxiety from Trump’s election did that Redford decided to address the mental-being of her students. As Redford opened a discussion in her classroom, she found herself unaware and struck by the amount of information and stress her students had experienced. Redford even said that one of her students was more up-to-date about current political issues than she was. From “alternative facts,” “pussy grabbing,” to the Russian hacking and more—her students were in fact very much aware.
My experience after the 2016 U.S. presidential election was very similar to Redford. As I was completing my degree in Marriage and Family Therapy, I had the opportunity to work with series of families, and just like Redford, I also heard many concerning stories from colleagues. I noticed that we were all witnessing high levels of stress in children as young as five-years-old. One particular story broke my heart. A six-year-old boy told me, “White people now have Trump, so we have to beat them at soccer!”
I was devastated because as a society we had failed to give children a president worthy of their intelligence. This innocent boy had been bullied and now was becoming a bully himself because he believed it was okay to dislike all white people now. In his mind, Trump supporters were all white and hated his ethnic minority. Furthermore, he was convinced that he had to become a better soccer player so that he could, “Beat white people!”
Ultimately, I should have blamed the parents for allowing their child to believe such painful and discriminating statements. But I was their Marriage and Family Therapist, and my job was to help the family cope with issues that were more immediate than Trump’s presidency. That was when I realized that we—educators and counselors—have an obligation to find new measures to empower children because some parents are also feeding into the anger and hate.
According to Dr. Barbara Milrod, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and psychoanalyst with expertise in anxiety disorders, who has sought anxiety in her medical practice since 2106 election: “while anxiety spreads easily among us all, children are the most vulnerable. Elementary school children lack a fully developed ability to solve problems on their own, making it difficult for them to separate other people’s worries (especially adults’) from their own frightening fantasies.”
Dr. Mildrod states that it is vital for parents to remain truthful to children. Parents should aim to gain their children’s trust and understand that kids “are able to tolerate hearing without becoming overwhelmed. This can get more difficult when parents feel overwhelmed themselves.”
Being an educator or counselor is a hard job, especially since Trump’s adverse political climate is complicating the task of educating children. Keep in mind that even children who are raised in pro-Trump families can be a victim of school bullying. Listening is imperative before we speak—we must listen to children and attempt to understand their frustration and feelings in order to make a positive change. Assuring our children that our school-yards are safe and that our non-judgmental doors are always open is imperative.
Our political views are not imperative; our role is to empower children and help them process their negative emotions. We must teach children tolerance, encourage self-advocacy, increase awareness and self-acceptance. We must teach our children their rights and the importance of their little voices; show them the power of unity and encourage them to be brave. We need to help families understand the power of the community, by getting them involved with local activities (church, community service, sports, and more). We must encourage families to participate in marches and help children write letters to the Congress so that they can start to feel empowered.
The Trump effect is shaping the way kids are behaving, and if we don’t address this, the consequences could resonate for years to come. Remember, that not taking a stand is the same as being part of the problem. We can’t erase history, our children will grow up and read about the ‘Trump Effect’ in the history books, and how will you explain your actions?