Kids, Courage and Character

Wading through the weekend newscasts was a demoralizing proposition with the networks' coverage of the tragic school shooting at Northern Illinois University and the rampant flu bug that has brought many to their knees.  But there were a couple of bright spots that bear mentioning if only because they were bright spots on the dreary news canvas this weekend.  Both tales were about kids and character.

On NBC Nightly News February 15 reporter John Larson turned the spotlight on middle school girls and the “mean girl syndrome” that permeates the seventh grade experience for many.  He featured a program created by Haley Kilpatrick, once a seventh grade girl who used to eat her lunch in the bathroom just to “avoid all the cruel things her friends were saying.”

When Kilpatrick moved on to high school she went back to middle school and talked to girls about how to survive the “mean girl” experience.  Kilpatrick has since created a program called “Girl Talk,” a mentoring program in which high school girls meet with middle school girls to help them navigate the difficult waters of seventh grade. 

Depression, gossip, cyberbullying.  All are topics which get discussed in this girl-to-girl program.  Kilpatrick noted, “For the first time we are seeing high school girls so excited to be leaders to the middle school girls and say, 'Let me tell you how I got through it.' It's really making a difference.”

The program has spurred an increase in academic performance for participants and is serving 30,000 girls in 24 states.  For more on Girl Talk, Inc., click here.

Leadership and character looked much different in an ABC World News Sunday feature on February 17.  ESPN's Tom Rinaldi reported on a teenage boy flying down a skateboard ramp and doing flips … in his wheel chair! ABC was so taken with the story the producers of Good Morning America chose to rebroadcast it on February 18. 

Aaron Fotheringham, the featured fearless teen, was born with spina bifida and became wheelchair bound at an early age.  He was 8-years old when he started using his wheelchair like a skateboard at a local skate park in Las Vegas.  He landed a back flip in his wheelchair in 2006 while at an extreme sports camp.  The video was posted on the internet making young Aaron an unlikely sports hero – and an inspiration to wheelchair-bound kids everywhere.

One mom featured in the ABC story brought her 4-year old son to Las Vegas to meet Aaron.

Linda: He's a hero. He's a hero. He thinks that Aaron flies. I hope that the other kids, like Zachary, can find that too. Because I didn't know what to do with him until we saw Aaron. And then I knew.  That was, um, that gives us a direction to go.

Aaron's response?  “Just seeing their faces watching me makes me want to help them. Even if they don't go to the park, just to be able to help them live a better life.” (To see Aaron's inspirational achievement, click here.)

Aaron and Haley are exceptional young people and deserved the spotlight afforded them by the networks.  Both exhibit character and courage which aren't qualities the media often promote when it comes to youth.  One can only hope that the publicity generated by these features will positively impact other kids and inspire them to take a noble stand and make a difference in the lives around them.

Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.