Stopping Violence, Nurturing Tolerance in Kids

A twelve-year-old redheaded boy was recently assaulted by a group of middle school classmates in Calabasas, California. As many as fourteen students participated in the attack at A.E. Wright Middle School. The Los Angeles County Sheriff reported that the attack may have been motivated by a Facebook post announcing "Kick a Ginger Day," which 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 a few related incidents:

  •  Two teens in Alberta, Canada were charged for attacking a red-headed tenth-grade boy in the locker room of St. Francis High School.
  •  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. He said of the incident, "I was amazed by the amount of people who kicked me." 

Where do kids get such horrific ideas? It appears that the motivation for "Kick a Ginger Day," comes from the animated cartoon series South Park. 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 5,000 people are said to have joined an online Facebook campaign this year urging members to "Get them steel toes ready" for a day of kicking redheaded kids. Dozens of kids have left messages on the page claiming to have complied with the request.

But this trend doesn't stop at targeting redheaded classmates:

Ten Florida students were recently given in-school suspensions for participating in a slightly different event, which they called, "Kick a Jew Day." This time, Jewish students were targeted and attacked at a North Naples middle school.

How do we make sense of these vicious acts by children? Let's start by looking at what these attacks have in common:

  • All are hate crimes
  • All involved middle-school-age students
  • All were motivated by a single media incident
  • All were organized on Facebook
  • All incidents involved "mobbing" -- a group of kids who encouraged each other

Have you heard about incidents like this at your kid's school? Here's what to do.

5 Lessons to Learn From This Incident

1. Limit or prohibit Facebook for tweens. Many middle school students are too young for Facebook. Research already shows that cyberbullying and bullying peaks when kids are in their tween years, and peer pressure also peaks during these ages. When it comes to Facebook, don't be afraid to set clear limits -- or just say no!

2. Watch your child's media diet. Media does influence children. If you had any doubt, these incidents should be proof. Watch your children's media diet carefully. Put firm limits on what your family views on television and on the internet, and voice your concerns to anything objectionable.

3. Boost empathy and tolerance at younger ages. Tolerance is learned, and so is hate. One-time talks about empathy, respect and kindness don't cut it. These 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 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 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. 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 more important time to nurture tolerance.

Excerpted from The Big Book of Parenting Solutions by Michele Borba. Copyright © 2009 by Michele Borba. Reprinted with permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Get more Parenting Solutions by following @MicheleBorba on Twitter.


Dr. Michele Borba is the author of over 22 books including her latest, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions. She is a leading educational consultant, national parenting expert, contributor to iVillage, adviser to Parents magazine, regular guest on NBC's Today show, and mom of three.


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