13:12, July 01 184 0

2017-07-01 13:12:05


How Donald Trump is teaching kids to be bullies

You’ve got to be taught To hate and fear, You’ve got to be taught From year to year, It’s got to be drummed In your dear little ear You’ve got to be carefully taught. You’ve got to be taught to be afraid Of people whose eyes are oddly made, And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade, You’ve got to be carefully taught. You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late, Before you are six or seven or eight, To hate all the people your relatives hate, You’ve got to be carefully taught!   “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught,” from South Pacific, Richard Rogers & Oscar Hammerstein, 1949

This song from the Broadway musical South Pacific is preceded by the line that prejudice is “not born in you! It happens after you’re born.” Though the lyric in this song referred to racism and ethnic biases, it can and does refers to other forms of social prejudices and discrimination as well.

Youth learn the values and attitudes of people and later the larger society around them through socialization. Within this process, youth also learn prejudices and how to discriminate through observing others around them, and through reinforcement and modeling.

Youth begin developing attitudes about various groups in society as early as ages three or four. Initially such attitudes are quite flexible. However, as young people grow older such attitudes become more difficult to change.

We are increasingly seeing what has come to be known as “The Trump Effect”: Donald Trump’s derisive and abusive words and actions are mirrored by young people and they react similarly against their peers.

We must not view bullying and harassment as simply youth problems and behaviors, but rather, investigate the contexts in which bullying “trickles down” from the larger society and is reproduced within the schools. Young people, through the process of social learning, often acquire bullying and harassing attitudes and behaviors, and they also often learn the socially-sanctioned targets for their aggression

Social Learning Theory

Social Learning Theory says that individuals learn by observing and associating with others (modeling), and through the process of reinforcement, whereby one’s beliefs and actions are in some way supported by others.

The developmental and educational psychologist, Albert Bandura, proposed that young people learn primarily through observation, and that one’s culture transmits social mores and what he called “complex competencies” through social modeling. As he noted, the root meaning of the word “teach” is “to show.”

Bandura asserted that the process of modeling alone — free from social reinforcements — can, in fact, be enough for young people to incorporate and act on their own beliefs and behaviors.

Bandura posited that positive modeling by knowledgeable or advanced peers can develop even higher efficiency and cognitive developmental competencies than teachers modeling the same activities.

Society at large, adults, and peers present an array of modeling, a continuum from very productive and affirming to very biased, aggressive, and destructive. Modeling to Bandura included much more than simple observation of concrete actions followed by imitation (“response mimicry”), but also included what he called “abstract modeling” of such abstract concepts as following rules, taking on certain values and beliefs, and making moral and ethical judgments.

On the negative side of the modeling continuum, for example, Bandura concluded that young people acted out aggression modeled by adults in their homes. This finding contradicted the premise that parental punishment would inhibit young people’s aggressive behaviors.

To test his hypothesis that social modeling had a primary impact on children’s learning and on their behaviors and beliefs, Bandura and his colleagues developed his “Bobo Doll” experiments. The purpose of the experiment was to determine whether adult modeling resulted in either aggressive or non-aggressive behaviors by the young children in the study.

Research participants included 36 boys and 36 girls, with a control group of 24 children. The participants ranged in age from 3 to 6 years, with an average age of four years and four months, all from the Stanford University Nursery School. The researchers investigated and were knowledgeable about each participant’s prior behavioral history, and this was factored into the final data analysis.

Each young person was taken individually into a playroom filled with a variety of “non-aggressive toys” including a tinker toy set, and “aggressive toys” including a wooden mallet and a Bobo Doll: a large inflatable clown, weighted on the bottom so it could stand unaided, approximately the size of a pre-adolescent child of 5 feet.

The experimenter told each young participant that the toys were only for the adult model to play with, and that the young person was to watch the adult. The young people in the control group, however, were each told individually that they could play with the toys. No adult model was to enter their playroom.

For half of the participants, the adult model initially played with the tinker toys for one minute, then for nine minutes, attacked the Bobo doll with a sequence of verbal insults and physical violence including kicking, punching, and hitting about the head with the wooden mallet. For the other half of the participants, the adult model played with the tinker toys and ignored the Bobo doll for the entire 10-minute duration of this phase of the experiment.

Following their observations, each young person was taken individually by the experimenter into another playroom with an assortment of toys, which included an airplane, a fire engine, and a doll set with clothes and carriage, among other things. To instill a certain degree of anger and frustration, the experimenter told each young person that they could play with the toys in this room for a very short time, and that these toys were reserved for other children.

The young participants were then taken individually to a third playroom and left alone for 20 minutes to play with aggressive and non-aggressive toys. The aggressive toys included the Bobo doll, a wooden mallet, two dart guns, a tetherball with a face painted on it, and others. Among the non-aggressive toys were paper and crayons, a tea set, two dolls, a ball, cars and trucks, and plastic farm animals. Experimenters observed each child behind a one-way mirror and evaluated their behaviors on a series of specific measures of aggressive behavior.

Bandura found that the youth who observed the aggressive adult model were much more likely to exhibit both imitatively physical and verbal aggressive behaviors when left alone in the third playroom, as opposed to youth who were exposed to the non-aggressive model or no model.

In addition, Bandura’s initial assumption that youth were more highly influenced by same-sex models was validated. Both the males and the females exhibited higher degrees of aggressive verbal and physical behaviors following modeling by a same-sex experimenter than by an experimenter of the other sex. Finally, overall, males tended to behave more aggressively than females in the study.

Bandura and his associates succeeded in supporting their theory of social learning. Young people, they found, can indeed learn specific behaviors, such as forms of verbal and physical aggression, by observing and imitating others. This was found to be true even in the absence of behavioral reinforcements.

Bandura concluded that youth are highly influenced by observing adult behavior, leading them to believe that such behavior is acceptable, and, in this instance, freeing their own aggressive inhibitions. They are then more likely to behave aggressively in future situations.

Donald Trump, in his words and behavior, treats people as if they were his personal Bobo dolls, and thereby negative role models to all youth. But as more and more of us stand up, speak out, and interrupt this behavior, collectively we will disarm him, take the mallet from his hand, and model for our youth that bullying in all its forms will not be tolerated or condoned in a just society.

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