Preventing Bullying through Kindness
I’ve been working with Adam Sherman of the To Be Kind movement over the last few years, as he is an award-winning educator here in my home state of Florida (and also worked in the county where I went to school while growing up!). He is passionate about creating positive climates within schools to reduce violence, harassment, and hate, and his enthusiasm is contagious and so refreshing to see. While teaching Leadership classes at school, he spearheaded a curriculum to encourage a peer environment that helps (and not hurts) others, and it has gained significant traction around Florida.
I’ve asked him and a few of his students to share some of their thoughts below. My hope is that it inspires teachers and counselors to identify a cadre on campus that can take this idea and run with it! With the new academic year upon us, I think it is essential to enlist teens to set the right tone early on regarding bullying and cyberbullying. With effort and follow-through, it has the potential to truly transform the school community.
The educator (Adam Sherman):
Kindness is difficult for students. The hard part with kindness is that our collective society has made it easier to be mean. It is easier, and often more comfortable, to laugh at others, to judge them, to talk negatively behind their back, etc. For lack of a better description, hurting others is sometimes a socially acceptable norm. So when students, or anyone for that matter, go out of their way to do/say something with kindness, they are actually looked at in a negative light. It often means they are going against their peers and that opens them up to be hurt negatively. That means students are quick to give up. As an educator, and quite simply as an adult, I have to help show them that they must continue to persevere despite the nay-sayers.
It can be difficult to imagine teaching young people to be kind. After all, when one thinks of bullying, they automatically think of it as a “rite-of-passage” and that all students do it. But for me, it is easy to help them learn a different way through life because I try to look to my own actions first. Just as anyone else, I make mistakes and say things I don’t mean, but I have to set the example for the students. I have to live my life kindly so that they can learn the behavior. We aren’t born to be mean, we learn to be that way.
When it comes to how we divy up the responsibilities of keeping this program moving, the students are tasked with influencing their peers. They take care of the school operations as well as helping me to design the materials we will use. I handle basically everything else. I monitor paperwork, social media (Facebook and Twitter), community involvement, inquiries, expansion, etc. I want the students to focus on their peers.
That is one of the reasons the program has become so successful. While we have created a model, it can be uniquely individualized for each school that takes it on. We have standards that we like to keep up and basic principles for schools to follow, but anyone who is familiar with education knows that every school is different. What one school needs may not be needed elsewhere. So the hope is that a strong group of students, with a strong adult role model, can create a culture of kindness and make school a place that students want to be. And the students certainly do that.
Since our program has begun three years ago, much has changed in physicality. My original students have moved on (except for one who remains on the Board of Directors), I have changed school districts (where of course I have already laid the groundwork to continue TBK), and though we have grown beyond what we ever thought we would, much remains the same. The message of TBK remains so simple, and also drives its growing popularity. Our pledge, “Bullying ends where kindness begins; it begins with me,” is something that people of all ages can easily remember. We can’t change the behaviors of others, but we can certainly control the behaviors of ourselves. If we practice kindness, we will be surrounded by kindness. And when we are faced with negativity, we can either let it get to us, or we can respond to it by being kind. Sometimes that’s all it takes to turn that negative into a positive.
The students (Quinn Solomon, Joshua Sanchez, Danielle Soltren of Lake Brantley High School):
Over the past few years, social media has boomed. But as its popularity grows, so does the ability to mistreat others through the Internet. Often, there’s a feeling of hopelessness when it comes to bullying. Some people assume that it’s a problem that will always exist. We seek to destroy that mentality by showing the power of kindness, both in person and online. We’re optimistic that we can eliminate bullying step-by-step. After a terrifying experience when an online hit list threatened our students and faculty, our Leadership class knew they wanted to make a change.
After a long class discussion, someone suggested using social media as a way to help solve the bullying problem rather than make it worse. We decided to use the already trending idea of “tbh” (to be honest), where users on Facebook can like someone’s status and then receive an honest statement from him or her. Using the same format, we changed the idea to “to be kind.” Users still take part by liking a post on someone’s page. Then the original poster is supposed to give a compliment or write words of kindness on the wall of whoever liked the status. To Be Kind, or TBK, is a simple idea: Treat others as you would wish to be treated. Every one of us possesses the ability to be kind. This simplicity is the answer to preventing bullying.
The impact on our school was instantaneous. TBK turned into a buzz overnight. The very next day after we launched our idea, students were talking and trying to figure out what TBK was and where it came from. Using follow-up actions such as putting positive messages in lockers, we quickly turned it into a movement that lots of people wanted to be part of.
Like many new things, our idea hasn’t always been met with positivity. Many of the kind posts that students make on social media are rejected. Many people aren’t used to kindness anymore. We’re used to ridicule rather than compliments. So sometimes people post negativity in response. When that happens, we just thank them for expressing their feelings, or we ignore the comment. The purpose of TBK isn’t to instigate fighting or rumors, or to provide an outlet for people to criticize others. Its purpose is to show that social media and other everyday interactions can be improved with a few thoughtful words. Anyone, of any age, can spread a few extra smiles in a day. And TBK isn’t focused solely on students. We encourage parents and community members to get involved and to support our project at work and at home. We’ve also included the school faculty and staff by sharing words of kindness with them.
We take huge pride in TBK. It has grown into a symbol of anti-bullying not only at our school, but in many schools around our district, country, and beyond. For example, our school participates in a German exchange program. We’ve helped our partner school establish a TBK program, as well. The world wants kindness. People want to be treated as if they matter. That’s the ultimate purpose of the program. We know that kindness will continue to spread and bullying will continue to diminish. Remember: Bullying ends where kindness begins, and it begins with you.
A Leader’s Guide to “Words Wound”
By Justin W. Patchin and Sameer Hinduja
Whether you teach in the classroom, lead a youth group, or work with teens in another setting, “Words Wound: Delete Cyberbullying and Make Kindness Go Viral” can help you guide your young people as they learn about cyberbullying, consider their own attitudes and actions (and those of others), and think about ways to delete cyberbullying and make kindness go viral. This FREE leader’s guide can help you use Words Wound to inspire productive discussion, engage teens in reflection, explore useful strategies for dealing with online bullying, and work toward building a culture of greater kindness and respect.
Connecting with Students Online: Issues to Consider When Educators “Friend” Students
By Sameer Hinduja and Justin W. Patchin
This fact sheet provides information for educators and students to keep in mind when connecting via social media.
Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J. (2013). Connecting with Students Online: Issues to Consider When Educators “Friend” Students.
Identification, Prevention, and Response. Cyberbullying Research Center. Retrieved [insert date], from http://www.cyberbullying.us/FriendingStudentsonFacebook.pdf
Implications for Society from the Miami Dolphins Bullying Case
Over the past few days, reports were released involving Miami Dolphins football player Richie Incognito, accused of obscenely harassing, bullying, and threatening teammate and fellow offensive lineman Jonathan Martin in the locker room, via text and voicemail, and elsewhere. Martin apparently could not take it anymore, and took a personal leave of absence on Monday, October 28th from a football team trying to get into the playoffs. On Monday, November 4th, Incognito was suspended indefinitely from the team for detrimental conduct pending continued investigation of the inherent issues.
“Hey, wassup, you half n—– piece of s—. I saw you on Twitter, you been training 10 weeks. (I want to) s— in your f—— mouth. (I’m going to) slap your f—— mouth. (I’m going to) slap your real mother across the face (laughter). F— you, you’re still a rookie. I’ll kill you.”
On one side of this controversy are those who consider what happened to be typical locker room hazing among athletes, considering it “paying your dues” and a “rite of passage,” and how sometimes you just have to “man up.” On the other side are those asserting that the explicit cruelty in this situation is beyond the pale. On SportsCenter, Chris Berman pointed out the transcendent nature of this regularly-surfacing problem by making parallels to the extent of bullying that victimized youth are experiencing around the country. He rhetorically asked if a grown man in the NFL has bent under repeatedly suffering under the severity and viciousness of bullying, how can we expect a second-grader to handle it?
While our Center primarily focuses on the experiences of adolescents, we are frequently contacted by adults who have been mistreated by others (co-workers, community members, extended family members, ex-romantic partners) and their stories are just as compelling. We do what we can to help them because we know that their lives and stories matter as much as our own, and because there are few things worse than the pain stemming from intentionally inflicted wounds by another person.
In this case, many elements stand out. It is astounding to see how racial hate was expressed with such callousness and perceived impunity. Victimizing someone because of their race could be considered a hate crime in many jurisdictions. We also have specific (and arguably credible?) threats made against Martin’s life (technically a criminal offense in every jurisdiction we know of). You can’t just mouth off and say whatever you want, regardless of whether you are joking, or upset, or frustrated, or angry. We raise our children to know this societal rule, and to respect it. We also know that “hurt people hurt people”; it has been reported that Incognito was picked on while in middle school, and was encouraged by his father to bully others back. He has struggled with anger management and substance abuse, and was named the NFL’s dirtiest player in a poll of fellow players – facts which do not trivialize what has happened but do provide some context.
This once again brings bullying into the limelight and forces us to confront cruelty and hate. As I continue to study this, a few points stand out that can help us respond to and prevent these incidents. Reflecting upon this situation, future Hall of Famer Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis adamantly made clear that “there is a difference between hazing and hate.” Everyone – adults and youth alike – need to understand on a visceral level what is and is not societally acceptable behavior. Some things should never, ever be said (and hopefully never even thought).
Second, Hall of Fame San Francisco 49ers quarterback Steve Young stated that “Great locker rooms self-police.” We know from our work in schools that if members of that intimate community (educators, parents, and the students themselves) create a united front and take a stand against bullying, problems are greatly reduced or avoided. Finally, the Miami Dolphins’ front office has defended their decision to suspend Incognito as essential to maintaining a “culture of respect” among team members. I cannot overemphasize the critical importance of creating and preserving a positive social and emotional climate in ANY setting (e.g., school, corporation, football franchise). It is the linchpin that holds everything together.
Safe and Responsible Social Networking Presentation
This presentation is designed for educators and other youth-serving professionals who want to help adolescents make wise choices when participating on Facebook and similar social networking sites. First, a foundation of the positives of online social networking is laid while also exploring the developmental, emotional, and psychological reasons why teens have gravitated towards extensive communication in these environments. Then discussed are a number of hard-hitting case studies that illuminate how youth have carelessly or unwittingly sabotaged their future and undermined their athletic participation, college admission, work opportunities, and social relationships through unwise postings and Internet use. Finally, guidance is provided as to how to work with this population to enhance positive and appropriate interaction online.