One of the main points that Justin and I have been emphasizing in our school trainings and presentations is that we don’t just want students to not do the wrong thing (i.e., not engage in bullying and cyberbullying). Rather, we want them to actively do the right thing (i.e., do their part in contributing to a kinder, better climate on their school campus and in their community). If I were still a student, I wouldn’t want to attend a school where the kids aren’t mean to each other but they are also not nice to each other. Instead, they just keep their heads down, mind their own business, and live their own lives in a very insular and self-focused way. That doesn’t get me excited or hopeful at all about my middle school or high school life, and it makes me feel like everyone just needs to “gut it out” in survival mode and wish for better days on the other side of it.
I want to go to a school where my fellow classmates and peers are invested in building and maintaining an environment marked by care, compassion, and mutual respect. Then I’d be stoked to get there in the morning and be a part of something healthy and vibrant—something that is thriving.
Based on our experiences working with tens of thousands of youth, I feel like they want that—they just don’t know how to make it happen, and happen in a way that gains traction and succeeds, instead of failing and appearing lame or uncool. So the adults in their life need to teach them, inspire them, and help them along. To be sure, sometimes educators naively expect kids to know and apply the Golden Rule in all their interactions from early childhood. However, without intentional efforts to instruct and cultivate kindness, your students are simply not going to be others-focused by default.
Interestingly, research now shows that people who learn about, and practice demonstrating, compassion and empathy toward others are more likely to establish long-term patterns of positive behavior. Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and his colleagues have been studying the ways that compassionate behavior actually changes the brain. They found that “participants who learned compassion were more generous” and that “greater generosity . . . was associated with changes in the brain’s response to human suffering in regions involved in empathy and increasing positive emotions.” (Weng et al, 2014) In short, encouraging kids and teens to be kind and caring can result in neurological changes that may lead to expanded and consistent kindness and compassion toward others.
With all of this in mind, we’d like to provide you with some specific ways you can encourage and equip the youth in your life to combat bullying and cyberbullying by making it cool to care about others—both offline and online.
SET UP A SOCIAL MEDIA COMPLIMENTS PAGE
Most teens have a profile on one or more social networking platforms and are very comfortable navigating these environments. Perhaps you can encourage students to set up a separate account for the purpose of dishing out anonymous accolades to their classmates. This idea was made famous by Kevin Curwick’s @OsseoNiceThings Twitter feed and Jeremiah Anthony’s “West High Bros” Facebook compliments page and @WestHighBros Twitter feed. Now dozens of social media accounts have been set up by teens for the purpose of encouraging and praising their peers.
PARTICIPATE IN RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS
More and more individuals in all walks of life are realizing that it’s actually really cool to be kind. It’s even cooler when kindness is dished out anonymously and unexpectedly. Encourage your students or children to engage in random acts of kindness in their school or broader community. Search online for examples of young people being kind to others to give them inspiration. Dozens of videos and even a Twitter hashtag (#RandomActofKindness) can direct you to ideas as well.
CREATE A PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT
Many teens have great ideas for promoting positivity that they would love to share with others. Give them creative freedom to script out and record a short video with the simple purpose of encouraging others to be kind. They can interview their classmates or “famous” people in their school or community (like the principal or mayor). Leave up to them how to approach the activity— they’ll surprise you and hopefully come up with something really compelling! Then you can upload it to YouTube, your school’s web page, or social media accounts, and otherwise use it as a teaching tool to reach so many others!
A simple activity that kids of all ages can tackle is to design inspirational posters that can be plastered on walls around the school. It doesn’t take much artistic talent to inspire others to be kind with drawings or creative slogans. Teachers can work with a particular class or a specific subset of students to produce posters that can be covertly placed all over the school on Friday afternoon or over the weekend. The rest of the student body will return on Monday and be totally inspired by what they see all around them.
In closing, remember that promoting kindness doesn’t have to be a big production. The best ideas are often among the simplest. Working together, parents, teachers, and teens can make tremendous strides toward combating cruelty in all its forms during each new school year. Hopefully, as you share these ideas and stories of kindness, your teens will feel compelled to write their own, and thereby leave a positive mark in their school, community, and beyond.
Weng, H., Fox, D., Shackman, A., Bussan, D., & Davidson, R. J. (2014). Changing your brain and generosity through compassion meditation training. Retrieved from http://investigatinghealthyminds.org/cihmProjUnderstandingImpact.html#changingYourBrain
This post is excerpted from Bullying Today: Bullet Points and Best Practices by Justin Patchin and Sameer Hinduja.