Be Blissful/Heather Heinz

“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” – Desmond Tutu

One word that has become far too overused is “bullying.” Yes, some “crappy” stuff goes on every day, but it isn’t always bullying. It is simply unkindness. Most of all, it is hurtful.

Recently, I saw an article on CNN about a ‘movement’ called “No Body Shaming,” or “No BS.” I went to their website and read; I was moved to tears. Their mission? “We aim to show that your body doesn’t have to limit you, whether it be deemed ‘too skinny,’ ‘too fat,’ or ‘too broken.’ A movement that asserts that you don’t need society’s permission to seek your joy right now.”

What a bummer that we have to even HAVE a movement like this. Why can’t we simply accept one another for the awesome individuals that we are?

I work in the trenches: I am a middle school and high school teacher. I can honestly tell you that over the past seven years in the school systems, negativity or unkindness has affected every single child. Whether it was a child being unkind, or the victim of something unkind, or simply someone that ignored something unkind going on, or someone that comforted another that had something happen to them they have all dealt with it.

And they shouldn’t have to. I hate to say it, but what happened to the golden rule? Kids are not kind to each other anymore. This is not something new though. When I was in school, kids were unkind then. I don’t recall it being as bad, because in 1996 when I was in middle school, there was no such thing as Facebook or Twitter. When someone was mean to you, it was a word-of-mouth rumor, or to your face.

With the digital age comes the sense of anonymity. We can hide behind our computer screens and there are no consequences to our actions. Or so many kids think. That is not true. There are repercussions for your actions. Most of all, it simply is not the way the world works.

I am not saying every kid is mean all the time. I am not saying that kids are constantly picked on or harassed every single day. But you know what? Yes, I probably deal with at least one rude comment or snide remark a day, minimum. I do come in contact with about 150 kids in one day. I can try to push change, to make things to be more positive But here’s the deal: it isn’t just the school (or one teacher) that can help incite change. You can do it at home, too.

I encourage you to help instill in our youth how important it is to simply be nice.

Talk to your kids. Sometimes it is hard for kids to admit to their parents when something is going on. Encourage and honestly listen. Validate their feelings and help them work through it. TALK. TALK. TALK. So often kids retreat to their rooms and put on their headphones, and drown the world with music, or play a video game, or watch Netflix to tune out. Make them sit in the living room with you for 20 minutes. Eat dinner together. They like sharing with you. They may tell you that they don’t, but I have been reading tween and teen journal entries for years. They like it, though they may not ever admit that to you.

This is a big one. It is hard to do, but really important: monitor what your kids are doing and/or saying online. Yup, be the big bad parent and follow your kids on Twitter. Be their friend on Facebook. I am 32 and sometimes re-think a grumpy status where I want to say bad words because MY parents are my Facebook friends. Make your online presence known.

My final piece of advice: set the example. Be kind to others and show your kids how it is done. When walking into a local grocery store, I stopped in the parking lot to help pick up the contents of someone’s grocery bag that had burst open. My son followed suit and helped to pick up the items on the ground. It took two minutes. We could have easily ignored and walked past but I stopped. And you know what? I am going to bet that when my son is my age, he is still going to stop and do that sort of kindness for a stranger.

You don’t need to hug everyone you meet, but smile. Simply say hello or good morning. Hold the door for someone. I have posted this quote from Plato all over my school and use it frequently. They are words to live by. “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” Let’s all aim to be a little kinder. Help me, and our kids, combat this negativity.

Editor’s note: Heather Heinz teaches English at Lake Linden MS/HS