Bullying, web-bashings, and hazing -- these are signs of an epidemic of cruelty among our youth, according to many experts. Parents, teachers, and school administrators I talk to often concur. Did you know that 160,000 kids a day skip school because of the way they’re treated by their peers? In a recent national survey of kids in 3rd through 6th grade, 73% of the kids surveyed said their peers were somewhat to very mean.
Violence and cruelty saturate so many of the videos, TV shows, and movies kids watch. Often the the victim is portrayed as someone who deserves to be hurt. No accident that according to bullying research, kids who bully often say their target deserves it. In some kids’ eyes, if you're nerdy or “uncool” it's okay for people to pick on you.
We need to give kids the message that bullying -- or any other cruel behavior -- is never cool and is always unacceptable. Parents, teachers, group leaders, and anyone who works with kids can help break the epidemic of bullying and cruelty. Here are four things you can do right now:
- Never look the other way when bullying takes place.
This is the number one way to counter bullying. Say something as soon as you see it, and make it clear that bullying will not be tolerated.
- Call kids on mean words and actions of any kind.
Whether directed at a sibling or friend, don't let it go by. Say something like, “That was disrespectful,” or “It’s not okay to talk to your her in such a mean way.” Name it, call them on it, and help them find another way to express their anger or displeasure.
- Model respect and restraint, especially when angry.
Kids learn by example, and now more than ever, kids need to see adults who can handle negative reactions in respectful ways. As Gandhi once said, “We must be the change we wish to see in others.”
- Seek out examples of respect and compassion and talk about them together.
What books, videos, movies, TV shows have heroes who are respectful and compassionate, yet cool and with it? Who are some real life examples? Discuss this together. Kids need to become more aware of real-life examples of people who are cool, yet at the same time, decent and kind.
It's high time for all of us to spread the message loud and clear that being cruel is never cool.
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