First lady Melania Trump unveiled her new “Be Best” initiative last week aimed at promoting emotional well-being, combating cyberbullying, and fighting the opioid crisis.
“As a mother and as first lady, it concerns me that in today’s fast-paced and ever-connected world, children can be less prepared to express or manage their emotions and oftentimes turn to forms of destructive or addictive behavior such as bullying, drug addiction, or even suicide,” she said during a White House Rose Garden press conference. “I feel strongly that as adults, we can and should ‘be best’ at educating our children about the importance of a healthy and balanced life.”
The first lady has already laid the groundwork for part of the initiative, meeting in March with tech executives from Amazon, Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Snap for a roundtable discussion on cyberbullying. She and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos also recently sat down with teenagers to talk about their lives and problems at school.
During the campaign, when Mrs. Trump first indicated that she was interested in making bullying prevention a central tenet of her tenure as first lady, some critics quickly suggested she start by talking to her own husband about his Twitter feed, which he often uses to mock his opponents. Others said that she should learn more about the relationship between cyberbullying and in-person bullying and look into state efforts to combat bullying, which have often lacked enforcement action.
President Donald Trump’s fiscal 2019 budget proposed scrapping the Student Support and Enhanced Academic grant program at the U.S. Department of Education, which can help schools bolster social-emotional learning, combat bullying, and deal with the opioid crisis. But Congress, which just gave a $700 million boost to the program, seems poised to ignore the administration’s request to zero it out.
The Obama administration made a big play to crack down on bullying, in part by funding research to explore possible solutions, and by aggressively investigating civil rights complaints in schools. Schools that don’t address bullying on the basis of religion, race, or gender can be found in violation of civil rights laws.
Other recent first ladies also have focused on children’s issues: Laura Bush promoted children’s literacy, and Michelle Obama championed healthy eating and exercise, especially for young people.
A version of this article appeared in the May 16, 2018 edition of Education Week as On the Bully Pulpit to Stop Bullying