October is almost over, but it has been one of the most important, and possibly even defining, for my wife and I as parents. This month is National Bullying Prevention Month and in this day and age, taking the time to acknowledge it is more important than ever.
It used to be that bullying was primarily a face-to-face thing. When I was growing up, bullies perfected their craft on the playground, school bus or any location in which parents or administrators weren’t flourishing. I remember watching some of my friends get bullied – getting gum smashed in their hair with an atomic wedgie for good measure. I was always worried whether I’d be next. I would silently pray that my bus driver would hurry up and get to my stop as soon as possible. My wife can still recall with true clarity the day an older boy trashed her brand new pink coat on a bus ride home from school.
Things have certainly changed since the early 1980’s and with our technological evolution – it’s opened up another space or platform for children to be mean to one another without any adult, or even other kids, being the wiser.
Last week I called my kids inside from playing because their tone with one another was going downhill. Ava and Charlie weren’t including their brother in a series of bike races up and down the street. Mason was trying to take a neighbor’s scooter that clearly wasn’t his. The wheels had, for all intents and purposes, come off. Pun intended. Once they came inside, they immediately walked off into their bedrooms and upstairs into our bonus room.
As I went into their respective rooms to sit down and talk to them about why I became upset with them, I realized that all three were playing games online. All of these games have an interactive chat or voice component and while they know they’re not supposed to have those active, I can’t be everywhere at once. Electronics–confiscated.
I realized that my approach to talk to them about bullying may come off like a somewhat routine lecture and maybe it was a good opportunity to take the lead from my friends at Google.
What better way to talk with your kids about what it means to be kind while baking a cake? Google was kind enough to send me a handful of aprons and some extra sweet sprinkles as a topping – the rest was up to us. NOTE TO GOOGLE: I’m still holding out for the woodworking edition, hopefully that’s in the ideation pipeline.
While I’m not a huge fan of baking (I’m more of a chef), the idea was a win. With our busy schedules and everyone using down time to catch up on their socials or tablet games, we don’t find as much time as we’d like to interact together. The loss of their devices coupled with this group activity allowed us to let our guard down and gave me a better chance at finding out how they’re exercising kindness to those around them.
I also wanted to know if they’ve come across negative behavior or bullying online and if so, how they combat that. What does it mean to be an ‘upstander’ and how can they take action when they see a situation going sour?
I got my prime opportunity about halfway in when we were mixing the batter. Ava started in on her brothers about who was licking what spoon/bowl/beater… Charlie started picking on Mason and I could sense the situation was about to devolve. I interjected before anyone said anything negative and I could actually see the wheels turning in my older children’s heads.
When I asked Ava (10) if she’s witnessed other kids being bullied at school, she replied with…
“Yes, I’ve seen kids ripping other kids papers or pulling things off of their backpacks.”
When I asked her if she’s seen the same behavior online, she said,
“Yes, I’ve seen friends of mine get bullied on Roblox.”
I also asked Charlie the same questions and his reply was,
“Of course, Dad. I’ve seen kids say really mean things to others. I’ve also heard people bully other players on Fortnite.”
I wasn’t necessarily surprised to hear these responses. They’re pretty much in line with similar stories that seem to surface here and there in the media. Knowing that they’re seeing this behavior is one thing that probably won’t ever be avoided, however, my bigger concern was how they react.
When I asked them what they might do if they see someone getting bullied, I was happy to hear things like ‘I tell them that they have no right to bully that person’ or ‘I tell them to back off’. I had to encourage them to be brave and also tell their teacher at an appropriate time.
As we waited for the cake to finish in the oven, we sat at the table and I quizzed them on why it’s important to be kind to others. Ava replied ‘because that’s what you and mom have taught me’ and Charlie offered, ‘because that’s how we make friends’.
With the timer going off and the cakes cooling, I wanted their thoughts on one more question: what are some ways that you’ve been kind to kids in the past – ways that other kids might be able to follow your lead?
“When I see people sitting alone, I ask them if I can sit next to them, if they want to be friends or play together.”
“I offer to share a book with them if they look like they’re left out.”
I’ll admit that I was happy to hear these responses. Our hope is that they continue to exercise kindness to their peers – and EVERYONE they come in contact with.
If you’re looking for ways to start a conversation with your kids, there are plenty of resources as part of Google’s Be Internet Awesome program to help teach your kids ways to treat others the way they’d like to be treated both online AND in the real world.
Visit g.co/KindKingdom and play Interland with your family – an interactive game from Google’s #BeInternetAwesome program designed to teach kids how to be good digital citizens…and put their kindness skills to the test.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a sponsored post on behalf of Google and their #BeInternetAwesome campaign, however the kindness is ALL OURS to give!