Last weekend I was blessed with the opportunity to participate in my daughter’s high school church youth group service project. We did yard work for people in the area; many of whom were elderly or had faced recent physical set-backs such as hip replacements or strokes. The work was hard…really hard… and the high schoolers were amazing! They worked from 9:30 until 6:30 without complaining. I thought I’d have to manage their fatigue, goofing off, and messing up, but they functioned like work horses and earned my utmost respect.
One of the rewards of the day was transporting one particular girl from house to house along with the yard tools. I only had room for one person in the car other than myself, and this kind soul offered to ride with the old, boring, adult. We talked about a lot of things: college plans, current activities, likes and dislikes, and the “B” word. This talented, kind, mature, determined young lady had been bullied in middle school. She explained her sister had been subjected to similar treatment, and her brother had been a victim of bullying so serious that he no longer fit in at all in school. When he was bullied, the siblings ended up being bullied too. She stated, with a very accepting attitude and somber expression, that it was really difficult. I offered my genuine and heartfelt sympathy to which she responded, “It’s OK. I’m a lot stronger because of it. I know who I am and nothing bothers me anymore.”
I decided to ask this insightful teenager if she had any solution for the bullying problem that faces so many youth. We discussed the fact that many teachers don’t see or realize when kids are bullied. Victims and observers are afraid to talk to adults about it – afraid that they will be preyed upon even more. Finally, we considered what life would be like throughout the middle and high school years if kids truly learned how to respect one another and appreciate their differences beginning in preschool.
In the groups at our clinic we teach young children how to initiate and maintain interactions, advocate and compromise in school and on the playground, self-regulate, interpret non-verbal communication, negotiate space, and use and appreciate humor. One of the ways that we help children appreciate that everyone wants to be a good friend, even if their interactions don’t always give that message, if through the characters in our IMAGINE! Stories for Social Success. This book of 9 poetic stories is just one of the components of our Social Adventures program. Each of the stories introduces an adorable character who is struggling socially until an understanding friend comes along to help them try things a different way. With help, our kids are learning how to be friends and make friends which strengthens bonds among the kids and deters bullying. Through this process we hope to create a safer place for all children in a social world of understanding.
I was encouraged this weekend by young adults who have learned these lessons the hard way and have chosen to use their empathy and experiences for good. I hope the future won’t be as hard for the young kids who are just beginning their social adventures.
photo by: By Alejandrasotomange (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons