From the Mouths of Children

March 2, 2020 | National

Children are gifted mimics. When a grown person says something, it gives a young person permission to repeat. Sometimes, this phenomenon can spark a little flash of delight, like when a 1-year-old strings together “I love you”—totally unprompted—for the first time, repeating the words in the exact same sing-song-y tone she’s heard cooed over her crib. But other times, the parroted words are unkind. And that means some introspection and course correction from the grown-ups are in order.

“Build the wall! Build the wall!”

These are President Trump’s inflammatory words, and they have landed in the mouths of children. A Washington Post investigation of 28,000 news stories finds that Trump’s divisive rhetoric is trickling down from the White House to the schoolyard. Children are not only repeating Trump’s language, they are copying his delivery and his targets. At least three-quarters of the 300 attacks identified by the Post were directed at children who are Hispanic, Black or Muslim.

“You’re illegal. Go back to Mexico,” a high-school student in Idaho said to his classmate. “Ban Muslims,” teenagers in Maine sneered to a student wearing a hijab. Two kindergarteners in Utah told a classmate who is Latino that a Trump presidency means that he would be sent to Mexico.

Ashanty, who transferred schools after facing Trump-connected harassment at her high school puts it this way, “[T]he president says it. . . . Why can’t they?”

Words have power, particularly when they are said by powerful people. Discriminatory language causes both physical and psychological harm. Elsa Barajas, who counsels children at the Los Angeles Department of Mental Health, says she has seen Hispanic students struggle with sleeplessness, stomach pain and headaches. She has also seen students lose interest in school.

Hearing children repeat the sharp, angry words of adults to make other children feel fearful is painful. We cannot allow Trump’s poisonous words to build an invisible wall in this country.

Children are listening. What are we saying?

Read the report.