Saturday, March 26, 2011
This video doesn't need explanation but it does need action. Let's fix the disconnects here. How did we get to be a country that accepts such meanness in our children and for that matter, in ourselves?
Here's an idea. Teach them when they're young.
As part of a pilot leadership (bullying prevention) mentoring program in a local school, the seventh and eighth grade kids play word games with 3rd and 2nd graders. The goal of the game, created by one of the school's dedicated parents, is to introduce words like leadership, kindness, and generosity. The point is to make sure that all the kids know that these aren't just words. They're actions. The older kids are instructed to compliment their young partners when they seem to get the concept of friendship and respect. This is a long process, but the idea is to set help set the tone from as early as Pre-K about the school's expectation: Not everyone has to be your friend but everyone IS expected to treat others well at school. This includes on the bus, in the cafeteria, schoolyard, hallways, and even the bathrooms.
Even after setting this expectation in multiple ways, bullying will still happen, especially from 6th through 8th grade, but it won't be quite as acceptable. Kids may feel more comfortable about getting help if they know that adults in the building care and steps will be taken to make it stop.
When parents create this same type of expectation at home, as well, we all benefit. Here's a hopeful story to demonstrate this point. One of the volunteer moms, Cathy, told me that she was already starting to see some mean behavior bubble up in her daughter's fourth grade class. She and her husband sat their fourth grade daughter down and spelled out their expectation: she is to treat others the way she wants to be treated. Mean behavior would absolutely not be tolerated.
Recently, Cathy overheard her daughter talking to a friend on the phone. She was telling her friend that she wasn't going to participate in gossip about another classmate. She said that she didn't feel that what was being said was true and the other girl didn't deserve it.
Cathy walked past her daughter's room, asked her if everything was OK, and then gave her two thumbs up. Her little girl was caught in the act of stepping up and later, Cathy made a point to tell her how much she admired how she handled it.
If this was an Olympic event, Cathy should get a gold medal. She set an expectation and stuck to her guns. Then when her nine-year old rose to the occasion, she recognized it and gave her daughter a chance to feel proud and empowered. Her daughter is now part of the solution and not part of the problem. A great step in changing the balance in the classroom.
Young kids want to make adults proud at home, in school, on the field, in band practice or anywhere they get an adult's attention. Now let's set clear expectations and watch them rise.