A Facebook post by Mount Washington child psychologist and previous "Jeopardy" contestant Rebecca Wald went viral Thursday for her criticism of “Walk Up, Not Out,” a campaign that encourages students to walk up to people and say something nice instead of staging school walk-out protests in the aftermath of February’s school shooting in Parkland, Fla.
"‘Walk Up, Not Out’ is a campaign of cowardice, promoted by adults who want there to be a solution to school shootings that asks literally nothing of us. No tough choices, no exercise of political will, no speaking out to power - just lecturing kids on how to do better. We're good at that,” Wald wrote on Facebook.
Wald also addressed what she considers a misconception that all school shooters are bullied outcasts. The concept, she noted, dates back to the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, when two teenagers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, shot and killed 13 people and wounded more than 20 in Columbine, Colo.
There was an assumption that the duo were social rejects, spurned by popular kids, “but the FBI concluded that Harris was a full-on psychopath, and that kids didn't like the boys because they did creepy things like walking around giving the Nazi salute. Even so, a few days before the attack Klebold took a date to the prom, crammed into a limo with a dozen friends. Still the myth persists,” Wald stated in the Facebook post, which has since received more than 47,000 reactions and more than 51,000 shares.
“It really frustrates me to see this narrative that school students were bullied and that’s why they do it,” Wald said Thursday evening, though she notes that it seems “logical and tidy” when people have a “good reason for doing a terrible thing.”
“That’s very appealing, but there’s no research to show that these kids were bullied. That’s something that we do to make us feel better about their behavior.”
Wald also pointed out that this narrative, which gives way to empathy of the children and movements like “Walk Up, Not Out,” is skewed to privileged children, or those who are white and male. Many children of color are not given the benefit of the doubt or the assumption that they were being mistreated or have mental health issues, she said.
“When these middle class white boys are going into schools and shooting them up, there is that search for, ‘Where did this go wrong? Could this have been saved?’ … that you just don’t see when children of color commit crimes. We know from research that black teens are perceived as being older than their real age, larger, more dangerous and threatening, so you really don’t see people saying ‘that kid in your class that you think might be a part of the gang, go sit next to him,’” she said.
“... That’s only a narrative that we have about angry white boys.”
Wald said she also dislikes the fact that adults are denying the need to prevent “the massive load of guns in our society,” while blaming the violence on mental health. Now, adults are putting the onus on children to fix mental health by encouraging them to speak to their peers and say something nice to deter violence, she said.
“What an insane responsibility to put on children,” said Wald, who never intended on her post going viral. The psychologist said she makes about one public post a year — typically for friends — but on Thursday, a friend encouraged her to make her thoughts on the campaign and the aftermath of the shooting public.
“Things started happening fast,” said Wald, who has limited the comment section, which has been largely affirming, to only friends. She has been getting some private messages from strangers, however, “some of which are pretty angry, but not that many,” she said.
Wald emphasized that the same people who are protecting guns and preaching about mental health should also make sure comprehensive mental health services are widely available, especially during a time when there’s a shortage for children and teenagers, she said.