Cartoon Network Brings in the Experts
(Above: Michaela Pereira, Dr. Dorothy Espelage, Diahann Billings-Burford, Dr. Richard Weissbourd and Alice Cahn at a panel discussion on bullying prevention at Time Warner Center.)
By Brooks Jewell
When kids said bullying was something they could handle – if only grown-ups would show them how, Cartoon Network stepped in. And Tuesday, to celebrate their successful Stop Bullying: Speak Up initiative and kick-off Speak Up Week, the network invited leading childhood development experts to take part in a panel at Time Warner Center in New York.
The panel, which was streamed live to Time Warner employees across the country, was moderated by CNN New Day Host Michaela Pereira and featured Dr. Dorothy Espelage, an author and Professor of Child Development at the University of Illinois, and Dr. Richard Weissbourd, an author and Child and Family Psychologist from Harvard School of Education.
Before introducing the panel, Alice Cahn, Cartoon Network’s Vice President of Social Responsibility, announced that more than 940,000 Speak Up video messages had been submitted by fans around the country – closing in on the network’s goal of one million.
“Why a million?” she asked, “because to our audience … a million is a really big number, and for kids who’ve been bullied or know someone whose been bullied, knowing that a million people went out of their way to speak up for them is going to be a really, really good feeling.”
Since 2010, Cartoon Network, along with partners from across Time Warner, has made sure that kids don’t feel alone. Their teen-star-studded public service announcements, special documentary programming, multi-media ad campaigns, and A-list advocates that reach all the way to the White House, have made an incredible difference. Over 84% of kids ages 6 to 10 are aware of the channel’s Stop Bullying: Speak-Up campaign and more than six million have visited the website, which encourages adults, as well as kids, to take action.
Dr. Espelage echoed that sentiment during the panel, stressing that parents, in particular, need to be more involved. She said too many times parents talk to a school administrator, and they trust that the school will do something. “That’s a dangerous assumption to make. Schools often have terrible follow through.”
She said that in 2014, 70% of students said that their parents told them to hit back, if telling an adult first didn’t solve the problem. “So we have adults telling their kids it’s ok to retaliate,” she explained, “and we have these situations because parents haven’t held schools accountable.”
Dr. Wiessbourd agreed, but cautioned parents to talk to their children first to figure out the type of action needed, adding, “I feel for those children that may be reticent to involve their parents, because in some instances it can make the situation worse.” He said that parents should work with their children and a trusted school representative to find a solution and a means of intervening that can help defuse the situation in a productive way.
“We have to start talking about this early,” said Espelage, who explained that research clearly shows that bullying behavior in early grades is a precursor to sexual harassment in middle school and teen dating violence in high school. She said that girls in middle school are often tolerant or dismissive of sexual harassment because they don’t know that they have the power to say no or have been made to feel it’s part of growing up. “It’s because we aren’t talking to them about it,” Espelage said.
Dr. Weisbourd added that as adults, we need to appeal to the boys’ sense of honor and encourage them to be more empathetic to girls to foster healthy relationships across a lifetime. “The key is listening, and that’s sometimes far more complicated than people think it is.”
See photos of the event below. To submit your own Speak Up video message and be “One in a Million” visit Cartoon Network’s website or share your video or photos on twitter at #ISpeakUp.