First and foremost, we are all both parents and educators. Each day, we find ourselves straddling the line between allowing our children the opportunity to make mistakes and determining the right time to swoop in and save them. After explicitly teaching students how to read at the elementary level, we quickly expand our focus and begin the hard work required to help our students develop critical thinking skills. Through the years of K-12 schooling, our goal is to improve student achievement socially, emotionally, behaviorally, and academically. One of the most difficult things for me over the years has been trying to remain relevant and up to date with the pop culture, social media, outside influences that are kids experience each and every day. These trends are ever changing and as my generation ages, it becomes more and more difficult to keep up with our own children (my children, Bella and Talia, are 8 and 7 respectively, and I can barely keep tabs on them). Over the past few months, a new “internet celebrity” has emerged that has concerning implications for all of us.
On a fall episode of the Dr. Phil Show, a mother was seeking help for her out-of-control daughter, Danielle Bregoli. Drama ensued (as usual) and Danielle issued a challenge to the studio audience by saying (in some form of slang-talk), “Cash me ousside, how bow dah?” Loosely translated, she was challenging members of the audience to fight after the show. Since that appearance, this thirteen year old has gone viral and become a social media sensation based on that one catch-phrase. She’s also been involved in a physical assault on an airplane and then another in a pizzeria. She has since dropped out of middle school completely, began charging $30,000 for public appearances, signed product endorsement deals for over $200,000, and worse of all, she just signed on to be part of a cable network reality show. This means that by the end of 2017, she will be a multi-millionaire. (For a more comprehensive case history of her story, see this link: http://www.newshub.co.nz/home/entertainment/2017/03/cash-me-outside-girl-gets-her-own-tv-show.html
I usually tend to ignore these stories. But, unfortunately, as middle-level educators and parents, we cannot ignore this one. Her social media accounts have over 8 million followers and I see the memes, pictures, videos, and such involving her all around school. More than one student has actually told us that they look up to Danielle Bregoli and aspire to achieve the same level of fame. Another student went as far as telling us that she was cutting classes because Danielle Bregoli doesn’t even go to school and “she’s a real success.” So in essence, there are middle school students looking up to a now fourteen year old girl who dropped out of school, disrespects her parents, uses profanity in almost every sentence, has been arrested for assault more than once, and constantly disparages/insults/threatens other people via social media. Worst of all, this is the type of person who gets rewarded with attention, notoriety, and large amounts of money.
So what do we do about it as parents and educators? I think we should start by actually having a real dialogue about these types of things when our kids show us a video or ask to purchase an endorsed item. Rather than laughing or blowing it off, we can engage in meaningful discussion with our children to talk about our own values and the type of people we aspire to become in life. It may make a difference if they hear us reaffirm the characteristics that make a good friend, a solid citizen, and someone who values the discipline involved with working hard to accomplish goals. Next (and this one involves a little more work), purposely seek out true positive people in the world who are real role models. They might not get the news headlines and reality show deals, but they are out there. We need to overwhelm our “news feed” with those types of stories. Need help getting started? How about Eric Cowan, who volunteers for the Boys and Girls Club, overcame a speech impediment, and became “Youth of the Year” in his town? How about a group of teenage students who are creating a curriculum and cinematic experience to break down the stigma of mental illness? Or how about Felix Finkbeiner who believes so strongly about his cause, that he is on pace to plant over one-trillion trees? There stories are right here:
In the end, there’s no accounting for bad taste. But in our schools and in our homes, we can still demand more from ourselves, our children, and our community. I can assure you that no one in my household will ever be tuning in the Bregoli’s reality show. Instead, I challenge all of us to look for the “good news” about great people contributing to the world and society. By doing that, we can begin to swing this crazy pendulum back in the right direction.