ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — Melania Trump urged parents and teachers Tuesday to teach children how to interact in positive ways and also to prepare them for the negativity that comes with living in a digital age, calling them the “front line” against irresponsible behavior online.
The first lady focused on cyberbullying in remarks to the National PTA Legislative Conference and did not mention the coronavirus, an issue on the minds of educators and parents nationwide.
She also shared an extended handshake with PTA President Leslie Boggs at a time when federal health officials are discouraging people from engaging in such touching when they meet.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover. In mainland China, where the virus first exploded, more than 80,000 people have been diagnosed and more than 58,000 have so far recovered.
In her remarks, Mrs. Trump said the internet can be a “tool for good” by helping people share important life updates and stay informed but can be “destructive and dangerous,” even deadly, when misused.
The first lady spoke about a 16-year-old Tennessee high school junior who took his life last September after discovering that his intimate messages with a boy had been put on social media by classmates. The teen had not been public about his sexuality.
She said parents and teachers are the “front line” against such irresponsible online behavior.
“As parents, adults, educators, and community leaders, it is our responsibility to ensure our children are being taught the importance of positive ways to interact with each other and prepare them for attacks and negativity they could receive in this new digital age,” she said.
“With your help, we can break down the harmful barriers that internet abuse poses to our children and society,” she said, adding that she was “thrilled” to learn about steps by PTAs across the country to teach students, parents and teachers how to use technology responsibly.
Cyberbullying is one aspect of a youth initiative named “Be Best” that Mrs. Trump launched in 2018 that also focuses on their overall well-being and combating opioid addiction.
Her focus on cyberbullying comes as her husband, President Donald Trump, uses his Twitter account to belittle others and behave in ways that contradict her guidance to children. On Tuesday, the president tweeted that the independent Federal Reserve was “pathetic” for not cutting interest rates as low as he would like.
Mrs. Trump has said in the past that her husband’s antics won’t deter her from helping children.
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The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.