Let’s Stop Bullying and Add More Kindness to Our Culture
“Kindness is choosing love over hate, light over darkness, compassion over judgment.” – RAKtivist
I was bullied as a kid. It was decades ago when I was enrolled in a new, suburban middle school, mid-year, and had just arrived from a small town with small-town values. I didn’t dress in the most fashionable clothes, wore glasses and was very quiet. In other words, I was the perfect target.
Two girls, in particular, made it their mission to rally other students together to make fun of me on a daily basis. Consequently, it felt like an entire grade of 13-year-old girls and boys had singled me out as a pariah. The torment was relentless for almost two years.
The kids seemed to go out of their way to make me feel worthless and alone. What was worse was that it happened at a time when I was most vulnerable, a fragile period when I was developing a sense of self and ego. Ultimately, I ended up suffering from depression and an eating disorder.
My parents raised me to be kind and compassionate towards others, so I couldn’t understand how human beings could treat one another like this. What possible joy did these kids get from tearing someone else down? At the time, I remember thinking the pain would never end.
Make no mistake, as I reflect back so many years later, the sting may be gone, but the scars remain.
As I moved forward with my life, I made it my mission to take a stand against bullying and bring awareness to this issue in all its forms. This has become especially important to me now that I have two teenage children of my own, who I fear are growing up at a time when bullying is prominent in our society now more than ever. Unfortunately, the media continues to illustrate that the problem has only been amplified, not quelled.
While most schools claim to have “zero tolerance” policies towards bullying, more and more young people have fallen victim to “bullycide,” a modern term used to identify kids/teens who have become so emotionally distressed by bullying that they commit suicide.
To me, this means the policies either aren’t working or that the bullying isn’t being fully realized by the adults in charge. In other words, where is the “zero tolerance?”
Unfortunately, this is also a time when the emotional attacks have moved beyond the classroom and onto the Internet, making them even harder for parents and school leaders to observe. The tragic suicide of Mallory Grossman exemplifies the damage that’s being wielded in cyberspace. The once “All American girl” was bullied both in-person and online over a nine-month period by a group of her peers who urged her to take her life. Before she could be removed from the school, Mallory committed suicide at the age of 12.
Making matters worse, we now live in a divisive era in which our public leaders have resorted to childish bullying tactics, slinging offensive insults and accusations at one another via social media. Just reading some of the “tweets” takes me back to middle school. Is this behavior supposed to set a positive example for today’s youth? Why do we tolerate this?
Now, more than ever, we need to stand up to bullying of all kinds. We need to speak up whenever we witness an attack against another person. Speak up; speak out! Let’s get a national conversation going. Let’s remind each other and our children that there is still compassion, empathy and kindness in the world.
How about introducing new curriculum, like the program offered by the Kind Campaign, into our schools? The Kind Campaign is a non-profit organization that brings awareness and healing to the negative effects of girl-against-girl bullying through in-school assemblies, educational curriculums and their documentary film, “Finding Kind.” It was started by Lauren Paul and Molly Thompson, two friends who were also bullied as students. They believe that simply by making kids conscious of the things they say and do to each other, we can create change. I have attended one of Lauren and Molly’s events and viewed their powerful film. I strongly believe that programs like this should be mandatory for all students, beginning as early as elementary school. (The Kind Campaign was recently featured as an Architect of Change of the Week in The Sunday Paper. You can learn more here.)
Maybe it’s too late to educate our politicians about kindness, but it’s never too late to work with our children, our future.
As we embark upon a new school year, make sure to talk to your kids about bullying and its devastating effects. I have taught my kids, and reinforce it daily, about the importance of caring and compassion and to never judge a person by their looks, race, religion or sexual orientation. In turn, I tell them to come to me if someone is cruel to or hurts them. It all starts with us, at home.
On the back of my daughter’s school I.D. are the following “rules”:
- Reach out to lonely students.
- Give everyone a fair chance.
- Tell adults if someone’s behavior is wrong.
- Never make fun of anyone!
I believe these are edicts we can all live by. If we do, perhaps together we can “Make America Kind Again!”
This piece was featured in the Sept. 9th edition of The Sunday Paper, Maria Shriver’s free weekly newsletter for people with passion and purpose. To get inspiring and informative content like this piece delivered straight to your inbox each Sunday morning, click here to subscribe.