Stop With the New Teacher Challenge

On the final round, ” What the hell happened to humanity?” , now there are parents on TikTok showing their kids pictures of people with disabilities or people with illnesses that affect their appearance. And then they pretend that strangers are their children’s new teachers. Because apparently, if a 5-year-old child reacts fearfully to someone with a scar, squint, or a heavily intoxicated person, it’s fun.

At the time of this writing , the video tagged with the hashtag # newteacherchallenge has amassed over 42 million views on TikTok. Several of the videos on TikTok and other social media channels show people opposing it, including Lizzie Velazquez , author and motivational speaker, who was born with an extremely rare congenital condition and used her image to introduce children to their “new teacher.” “But an alarming number of posts with this hashtag are people trying to shock their children with a frightened or repulsive reaction so that they can then post that reaction for the world to watch and laugh.

And for parents who take this challenge to post their child’s sweet, inclusive, and unflappable reaction? It’s not cool either. It doesn’t show what a good parent you are, especially if you can barely hide your frustration when you constantly reassure them, “What do you think of her?” and they say something like, “All teachers are great.” It’s not about the reaction; the main thing is to participate in a challenge that mocks people because of their appearance.

Some of these photos look like mug photos. Some of them are disabled or sick. Some have been processed in Photoshop to make them look shocking. None of them are funny.

Doing this actively teaches children how to be cyber bully. Laughing at a child’s negative virtual reaction to a stranger is no better than laughing if they had such a reaction to someone in the grocery store.

I know I’m probably preaching to the choir, and I guess anyone who thinks something like this is funny is unlikely to be impressed by the argument about helping children develop more empathy by modeling empathy on their own. But if you want to use the New Teacher Challenge for anything, use it to talk to the kids about how the people in these photos might feel if or when they find out that countless strangers on the Internet are laughing at them. Use it to show children how to report this bullying on social media. And then continue the “reportage” with them.

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