Over the past decade, we’ve spent considerable time talking about bullying prevention. Conversations tend to focus on children harming other children, particularly in the schoolyard or online cyberbullying. Recently, however, there have been a number of high profile examples of adults bullying a child — specifically targeting child activists. These are kids whose actions have thrust them into the limelight and emboldened grown-ups who see a mature child in the public eye as fair game.
Take Greta Thunberg for example. The climate activist just turned 17 and was named Time’s “Person of the Year.” Her age has not protected her from a volley of verbal abuse, not just at the hands of the usual Internet trolls, but also from the President of the United States.
Donald Trump said Time Magazine’s selection of Thunberg was “ridiculous,” then proceeded to bash the young girl on Twitter. “Greta must work on her Anger Management problem,” the president wrote. “Then go to a good old fashioned movie with a friend! Chill Greta, Chill!”
Trump’s acolytes are in on it, too. Former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka recently made fun of Thunberg’s physical appearance on his radio show. When Gorka’s guest, writer Andrew Klavan, was trying to remember Thunberg’s name, Gorka chimed in and referred to the young activist as “thunder thighs.”
Even singer Meatloaf had something to say about Thunberg, calling her “brainwashed.”
And Thunberg is far from being alone. Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have been bullied incessantly for speaking out in favor of gun control. The fact that they are children has not stopped adults from lashing out at them, calling them “crisis actors” and insisting they are nothing more than puppets being controlled by gun reform advocates.
“Young people can be especially effective in changing public conversations about important issues,” Dr. Parissa Ballard, a developmental psychologist at Wake Forest School of Medicine told The Associated Press. “But public political engagement can be very stressful and can put young people in a vulnerable position when they receive criticism or people publicly disagree,”
To their credit, Thunberg and the Douglas High School students have responded to their aggressors masterfully. Thunberg changed her Twitter profile to mock Trump’s criticism of her, saying she was “a teenager working on her anger management problem. Currently chilling and watching a good old fashioned movie with a friend.” The bio has since been removed. And she responded to Meatloaf by tweeting “It’s not about Meatloaf. It’s not about me…It’s all about scientific facts.”
“There are people who are going to be putting us down,” said former Douglas High School student Diego Pfeiffer to The Miami Herald back in 2018. “We are children and we have a message. They are bashing survivors of a school shooting. You can go ahead, but our message is going to be loud and clear.”
It’s not about Meatloaf.— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) January 6, 2020
It’s not about me.
It’s not about what some people call me.
It’s not about left or right.
It’s all about scientific facts.
And that we’re not aware of the situation.
Unless we start to focus everything on this, our targets will soon be out of reach. https://t.co/UwyoSnLiK2