Last week a twelve year old red-headed boy was assaulted by a group of middle school classmates in Calabasas, California. As many as 14 students participated in the attack at A.E. Wright Middle School. The Los Angeles County Sheriff reported the the attack may have been motivated by a Facebook message post announcing “Kick a Ginger Day” and urged readers to beat up redheads.
Troubling as this is, it is not the only such incident. In fact, schools around the world have experienced similar attacks in the past few years. In each case a judge, sheriff or school official declared that the attack was promoted by a Facebook group urging members to kick people with red hair and support “Kick a Ginger Day.” Here are just three related incidents:
- Two teens in Calgary, Alberta were charged for attacking a red-headed Grade 10 boy in the locker room of St. Francis High School gym class.
- A girl in Alberta, Canada claimed that she and her 13-year old redheaded sister were punched and kicked by classmates at their middle school.
A 13 year old Vancouver boy was assaulted over 80 times (and said, “I was amazed by the amount of people who kicked me.”)
Where do kids get such horrific ideas? It appears motivation for the “Kick a Ginger Day,” comes from the “South Park” animated cartoon series in which one episode focused on prejudice against “gingers” (a term given to people with red hair, fair skin and freckles). The young character called Cartman described those with red hair as “evil” and “soulless.”
Nearly 5000 people are said to have joined an online Facebook campaign this year urging members to “Get them steel toes ready” for a day of booting (and kicking redheaded kids). Dozens of kids have left messages on the page this week claiming to have complied with the request.
But it doesn’t stop with targeting redheaded classmates. Read on:
- 10 students were given one-day in-school suspensions this week for participating in a slightly different “event” version they termed: “Kick a Jew Day.” This time Jewish students were targeted for assault at a North Naples Middle School in Florida and numerous Jewish classmates were targeted and kicked.
How do we make sense of these cold-blooded, vicious acts by children? We start by looking at a few commonalities. All these attacks have a few things in common:
All are hate crimes
All involved middle school age students
All were motivated by one media incident
All were mobilized by Facebook
All incidents involved “mobbing” –a group of kids who encouraged each other
5 Adult Lessons We Must Learn From This Incident
There are important lessons for adults that we must take seriously. I offer these five in particular for starters:
1. Prohibit Facebook for tweens. Middle school students are too young for Facebook. Research already shows that the peak of cyberbullying and bullying is amongst tweens. Peer pressure also peaks during these ages. This age needs face to face connection not social media. Say no!
2. Watch your child’s media diet. Media does influence our children. If you had any doubt, this incident should be your proof. Watch your children’s media diet carefully. Put firm limits on what your family views and voice your concerns to anything objectionable.
3. Boost empathy and tolerance at younger ages. We must do a better job. Tolerance is learned, and so too is hate. One time lessons or talks about such core virtues such as tolerance, empathy, respect and kindness don’t cut it. Such lessons must be woven into our children’s daily lives by respectful, caring adults.
4. Talk to your children about these incidents and voice your objections. Believe me, kids are hearing about “Kick a Ginger” and “Kick a Jew” from their peers. Don’t be afraid to push your values. Voice your objections. And then voice your objections over and over and over.
5. Hold kids accountable for cruelty. Hate as well as unkindness should never be tolerated. There is no excuse for cruelty. EVER!
It’s important to remember that children aren’t born hateful. Hate and intolerance are learned. If today’s children are to have any chance of living harmoniously in this multiethnic world, it is critical that adults nurture it. It is also critical that we tune into adolescent psychology so we can respond accordingly.
Of course the best way to teach children tolerance is not through lectures but through our example. So be a living textbook of tolerance for your children and for all other children. Hatred and intolerance can be learned, but so too can sensitivity, understanding, empathy, and tolerance. Although it’s certainly never too late to begin, the sooner we start, the better the chance we have of preventing insidious, intolerant attitudes from taking hold. And there has never been a time when it is most important for us to nurture tolerance than now.
Our children deserve far better–far better! And it’s up to adults to stand up to the plate.
If you are looking for strategies please refer to my book The Big Book of Parenting Solutions for proven ways to boost tolerance and help children treat others with respect and understanding. A complete makeover for intolerance, bullying and aggression including warning signs, proven solutions, and three steps for turning these troubling behaviors are also available.