This is an article I did in the Imagine Magazine. Here is the link to the full digital magazine with other amazing articles in it.

From Bystander to Take-A-Stander

Bullying in America is on the rise, and social media has made it more accessible and anonymous. According to statistics from market research provider Mintel, 47 percent of girls between the ages of 12 and 17 have been bullied. It’s become painfully clear that this situation issue isn’t going to get better without a concerted effort, and many students, teachers and parents are ready for change.

As a mentor for young girls and their parents, I have frequently shared my difficult childhood experiences to help girls overcome challenges and develop self-esteem. I was only five years old when I became a target for bullying in my neighborhood. I remember feeling really scared and anxious all the time. One day I was riding my bike near my house and some teenagers pretended they were going to run me over with their car. Why did they think that was funny?

When I was in seventh grade, a group of girls would repeatedly shove me and tell me they were going to beat me up. They even broke into my locker and took my things. It was incredibly stressful for me. I started having stomach aches and frequent nightmares. My schoolwork really suffered too. I never felt I could tell my parents or teachers. I just dealt with it as best I could, hoping it would stop. The bullying never did until my sophomore year in high school.

To live under this kind of pressure is too much for many kids and, sadly, some have resorted to taking their own lives as a result. I believe that if bullies really understood the harm and potential consequences of their actions, they would not continue tormenting others.

When I was bullied I felt like an outcast, someone no one would ever care about or even knew existed. I feel badly for kids who get bullied, and  I actually feel badly for the bullies because obviously they have problems. Overall its not a good situation,  but it does inspire me to be nicer to others…for sure. – Brad, 15 years old

Taking a stand against bullying

One of the best ways to create awareness and real change is by helping our youth become leaders against bullying in their schools. The formation of peace groups is proving to be one possible solution that has met with success. A peace group is any organization that promotes compassion and kindness, while discouraging negative behaviors. They can be any size, ranging from a small club to an entire neighborhood effort, complete with the involvement of parents, teachers, coaches, youth pastors, and more.

If you know of others who are as concerned about bullying, consider getting together to talk about how things could change. Host a courageous conversation around bullying and invite parents and kids of all ages. Don’t be afraid to go directly to the school with your concerns and ideas. If school administrators and faculty hear that many parents and students are interested in taking part in anti-bullying efforts, they will most likely support your efforts.

To bring more kindness and compassion into our environment, we all need to participate in whatever way we can. Many of us are not either bullies or victims but bystanders—those who see bullying happen, often feel uncomfortable about it and yet fail to intervene.  This is true because we often don’t know what to do or feel powerless in being able to do it. Parents, teachers and other adult role models can model and teach these skills to our young people, and let them know that they will be supported in stepping up or stepping in. The more involved we become, the more we chose to be take-a-standers rather than bystanders, the sooner the world will shift into the kind of peaceful place we all envision.

Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.” – actsofrandomkindnessclub.org

ACTS OF RANDOM KINDNESS

Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose, California, has had great success on campus with the creation of a peace club called ARK, which stands for Acts of Random Kindness. With its inception at Independence High School, also in San Jose, ARK is now a sprawling movement at more than 40 high schools and counting across and beyond California. I interviewed Mrs. Melissa Boulton, a faculty member in Mitty’s Social Studies department, who is involved in the club. Here is what she had to say.

Why did you create the club? We discovered ARK through its president and founder at Independence High School. After hearing so much positive feedback about the club at other schools, we thought it would be great to start one at Mitty. The positivity and mission statement of ARK really caught our attention, and the smiles it generates through such simple acts is very rewarding to see.

Did the students want it? Our school theme for this school year is actually Acts of Kindness, so ARK fit perfectly into the school community. We have gotten such great participation and feedback from our club members and the school as a whole. Everyone seems to enjoy the simple yet thoughtful activities ARK members promote around campus. We have also gotten a lot of support from faculty members as well.

What impact does it have on curbing bullying? Our school does not have a big bullying problem, but we definitely see that competitiveness and stress take a toll on students. ARK is a way for students to take a break from the demands and pressures they are under. Not only are the students benefitting from this, but they also are able to promote kindness around campus. So although I would not say that our club is curbing a bullying issue, it is definitely spreading much needed positivity and joy throughout Mitty.

Have you noticed a difference in how students treat each other? The funny thing about kindness is that it is often overlooked, because the stress of high school tends to send students into thoughts of negativity. People do not realize that holding open doors for others, or giving a dollar to the kid in the lunch line who needs it makes a big difference in the lives of others. Part of our mission statement is to show that these small actions are in fact things that do make a difference. Of course, making people realize this does not happen overnight, so ARK activities start out as a small ripple. Students make an effort on a daily basis to do one small random act of kindness. This can be a compliment, a favor, or a surprise treat. Overall, we have recognized that kindness is free and extremely rewarding so students try to spread it as much as possible.

What are some of the activities you have done to promote kindness?  We challenged students to write notes of appreciation to each other, to teachers, and to faculty members. Notes were left on a display poster in a main hallway. At first there were only a few notes. As the week progressed, the poster became so full of appreciation that it fell over due to the overwhelming amount of kindness shared. Throughout that week of appreciation, we believe that this powerfully demonstrated how a few seconds out of your day changes the mood for another.

Peace group activities can help counter bullying

Peace groups can get started with a number of positive activities to help both kids and adults experience greater compassion and a deeper empathy for their peers. Here are a few ideas to get started.

Have regular meetings that give kids an open forum to discuss their feelings on bullying and abuse.

Write an anti-bullying skit or play and perform it for the school or local community

Design posters and other creative projects that promote peace, compassion and appreciation for one another.

Take part in fundraisers to raise money for anti-bullying organizations.

Develop a set plan of action so that kids know what to do if they witness bullying.

Book a professional counselor to speak about bullying and the damage it can do if ignored.

Create summer camps, after-school meet ups, and other activities that can give kids in a positive experience and place to be.

Encourage kids to express positivity instead of negativity. One school put up large pieces of blank paper and had teens write down positive comments about their peers.

Design posters and other creative projects that promote peace, compassion and appreciation for one another. 

Desmond Tutu once said:
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have
chosen the side of the oppressor.”

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