First lady Melania Trump unveiled her new, “Be Best” initiative on Monday aimed at promoting emotional well-being, combating cyber-bullying, 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 often times turn to forms of destructive or addictive behavior such as bullying, drug addiction, or even suicide,” she said in remarks 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 teens to talk about their lives and problems at school. DeVos was on hand for Monday’s Rose Garden ceremony.
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 (“Lyin’ Ted” for Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, or “Crooked Hillary” for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee in 2016). Others said that she should learn more about the relationship between cyber-bullying and in-person bullying, and look into state efforts to combat bullying, which haven’t always been effective because of a lack of enforcement action.
President Donald Trump’s fiscal year 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 have also focused on children’s issues. For instance, Laura Bush worked to promote children’s literacy, and on behalf of women in Afghanistan and other developing countries. And Michelle Obama championed healthy eating and exercise, especially for young people, as well as international education.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
President Donald Trump points to someone in the audience as he stands next to first lady Melania Trump during an event where she announced her “Be Best” youth initiatives in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 7. (Susan Walsh/AP)