A new youth-driven campaign aims to end bullying where it begins: with kids and the choices they make.
"I Choose" (www.WhatDoYouChoose.org), available free to schools and communities, asks children and teens to adopt and embrace one of five words representing powerful social concepts: friendship, kindness, respect, compassion, love. In teacher-guided discussions, they analyze the meaning of their word and then strive to use it in daily interactions. When confronted with a choice involving peer relationships, they’re asked to choose their word to put into action.
A Lance Armstrong "Livestrong"-style bracelet imprinted with "I choose (their word)" serves as both a reminder and a message to others.
"I Choose was developed with the help of the youth community at Yoursphere.com (kids-only social networking site). We asked who they thought could end bullying and 98 percent of respondents said kids can," says Mary Kay Hoal, the website's founder and president. "When we asked about the choices they thought would be effective in helping them end bullying, they chose these five."
The education initiative is the first for Yoursphere's non-profit arm, The Yoursphere Media Foundation and Coalition for Internet Safety Education and Reform (FCISER). "Bullying is a global issue and cyber-bullying is at an all-time high," says Hoal, an Internet safety expert. "Unfortunately, a lack of funding and awareness has left many schools and communities without a solid bullying education program."
School and community representatives can apply for a free Anti-Bullying Challenge Starter Kit at WhatDoYouChoose.org. They'll receive an information packet, poster ("Bullying is a choice") and the "I Choose" bracelets.
"After the initial implementation of the challenge, we tell teachers and youth group leaders to periodically follow up with their students to analyze the impact that the program is having in their life at school and at home", Hoal says. "Have the students noticed a shift in the school or classroom culture? Did they stand up for someone they normally wouldn't have? This follow-through can be very empowering because it not only reinforces the fact that their choices matter, but it proves to the students that they can have a real impact."
The need is made painfully clear at the whatdoyouchoose website, where students can share stories and videos about their own experiences with bullying. Maddie, 15, remembers bullies starting to leave nasty notes in her locker and binder when she was in seventh grade. They called her fat, ugly, worthless. It got worse the following year.
"I started to believe them. … So I stopped eating, not completely but to the point where I would eat so little a day, I was very very light-headed and sick by the end of the school day. …I started wearing more makeup than I already was wearing and I was just a mess," she writes. "To try to forget about the hurt and pain those people caused me, I turned to cutting myself. Not a good idea. I never told my parents because they were in the middle of getting divorced."
Maddie's doing better now, but the experience taught her how intensely painful and isolating life is for the victims of bullies. Adults and children who've already chosen their words also have a place to share on the site. Nine-year-old Gladys chose kindness. "I choose Kindness because it's like Love. Love shows up when Kindness comes around. So Kindness is like niceness and Love merged together," she writes.
"It's also like Friendship. If you’re kind, people want to be your friend, right? … It’s also like Respect. … If you're showing Respect, that is a sign of Kindness. And last, it's Compassion. If you're helping others, isn’t that showing Kindness? Friendship, Respect, Love, and Compassion, ALL started with Kindness."
It's that kind of critical thinking that helps children remember they have a choice – and that with their choices they have the power to change people, Hoal says. "I Choose is an important reminder to children that their choices do matter," Hoal says. "We want them to stop, think and remember."
I'm a former 7th grade Science teacher turned stay-at-home mom that lives in Houston, Texas. I am married to my college sweetheart and have a beautiful daughter named Riley, who definitely keeps me on my toes! I am also involved in starting a small business which would both manufacture and sell an invention that I've patented, called Toothpaste 2 Go. I love interacting with my readers and hope to learn as much about you as you learn about me!