WASHINGTON — Melania Trump on Monday gave her multipronged effort to promote the well-being of children a minimalist new motto: “BE BEST.”
The first lady formally launched her long-awaited initiative after more than a year of reading to children, learning about babies born addicted to drugs and hosting a White House conversation on cyberbullying.
“As a mother and as first lady, it concerns me that in today’s fast-paced and ever-connected world, children can be less prepared to express or manage their emotions and often times turn to forms of destructive or addictive behavior such as bullying, drug addiction or even suicide,” she said in prepared remarks.
“I feel strongly that as adults, we can and should ‘be best’ at educating our children about the importance of a healthy and balanced life,” Mrs. Trump said.
The first lady said early on that she would focus on child well-being. The goal of her public awareness campaign is to encourage parents and other adults to teach children how to be good citizens, including being kind, not bullying on social media or anywhere else, staying away from drugs and taking care of themselves.
The campaign will focus on the issues of well-being, social media and opioid abuse, she said.
“If we truly listen to what our kids have to say, whether it be their concerns or ideas, adults can provide them the support and tools they need to grow up to be happy and productive adults who contribute positively to society and their global communities,” said Mrs. Trump, who made the announcement in the White House Rose Garden as President Donald Trump looked on from the audience.
Monday’s announcement followed a period of high visibility for a first lady who once had a scant public presence around the White House. Last month, she joined her husband to host the prime minister of Japan at the Trumps’ Florida estate and the president of France at the White House. She also represented the administration at the April funeral of former first lady Barbara Bush.
Mrs. Trump’s announcement also came as her husband remains under intense legal pressure from a special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and is facing questions over $130,000 in hush money paid by one of his attorneys to a porn actress who says she had sex with Trump in 2006. Trump denies her accusation.
During nearly 16 months as first lady, Mrs. Trump demonstrated her interest in children by visiting with young hospital patients in the U.S. and during overseas trips with the president, often reading to them and encouraging them to do their best.
Her interest in the opioid drug crisis, developed during the presidential campaign, has taken her to care centers and hospitals in West Virginia and Ohio to learn about the epidemic’s effect on babies born to mothers addicted to the powerful painkillers. She convened a White House roundtable on the issue last fall.
In March, the first lady hosted representatives of the major online and social media companies at the White House to discuss cyberbullying and internet safety.
That meeting came more than a year after she promised to use her White House platform to discourage cyberbullying. Her choice was ridiculed almost immediately, given her husband’s longtime habit of calling people names on Twitter, but Mrs. Trump said the criticism wouldn’t discourage her from doing what she thinks is right.
She said Monday that social media is too often used in negative ways and that it is important for children to learn positive online behaviors at a young age.
“I do believe that children should be both seen and heard, and it is our responsibility as adults to educate and remind them that when they are using their voices — whether verbally or online — they must choose their words wisely and speak with respect and compassion,” the first lady said.
Modern first ladies typically highlight personal causes, from Nancy Reagan’s campaign to get kids to “Just Say No” to drugs to the emphasis the late Barbara Bush and her daughter-in-law Laura Bush placed on literacy and education to Michelle Obama’s signature “Let’s Move” campaign against childhood obesity, which she launched about a year after moving to the White House.
Mrs. Trump took a little more time to pull her initiative together. She did not live in the White House for the first five months of the administration to avoid having their son, Barron, now 12, change schools during the year. She has a smaller staff than her predecessors and only hired her policy director in January of this year.
The first lady plans said she will travel as part of the initiative.