Not more statistics! I hear ya, but right now is actually a good time to take a look at this.
Since 2000 there has been a decline of caring, compassion and empathy in children. By college age, students are 40% less empathetic than students typically were 30 years ago. Technology has removed a great deal of human interaction. Human interaction generates empathy and understanding.
When you consider that we're suddenly reliant upon technology to connect, this brings up some valid concerns. Especially if you consider that the following statics are related, in any way, to a decrease in empathy. The rate of teen depression has increased an alarming 63%. Suicide is the SECOND leading cause of death for
ages 10-18. Children as young as six years old are taking their own lives.
It's statistics like these, and so much more, that motivate us to do what we do with
Come Together with Kindness.
In 2000 I started my 15-year career in child advocacy, working within the child welfare and juvenile deprived court system. When Drew started experiencing bullying in Kindergarten, he was shocked when I told him that he might actually be able to help the kids who were unkind to him. "But, Mom, they're the bad kids." He was highly skeptical when I told him there is no such thing as a bad kid.
I saw, day in and day out, how adult choices impacted children's behavior. I saw how kids on our caseload responded to these choices. When kids were disappointed, hurt, sad, angry and stressed, which exacerbated their anxiety and depression, their negative behaviors escalated. Everything the adults in their lives did or didn't do, not showing up for a visit, for example, caused a surge in negative behavior. Unlike most people who witnessed these kid's "bad" behaviors, I had a case file full of background information and weekly reports on the 'why.' I knew what was happening. I knew their back story. I saw the correlation.
I discussed with Drew how the kids who were unkind were likely struggling because #TheirHeartsHurt and we talked about how we didn't #KnowTheirBackstory. We had no idea what these kiddos were going through. Even at five years old he understood. This shifted his entire perspective and empowered him to want to help. We can’t control what other people do. We can only control what we do and how we choose to respond to what others do.
Drew immediately began to ask kids who were unkind what was wrong and if he could help. Nine times out of 10, the kids would share their 'why.' In most cases, Drew became friends with those kids and many times they would continue to talk to him about what was bothering them. He'd be so excited after school to tell me, "Mom! I found out So-and-So's backstory!" In most cases, Kindergartners were able to work through these issues on their own.
As adults we're often missing this piece of the puzzle. The jerk that cut me off in the grocery store parking lot...is he really a jerk? Or was he just in a hurry to get home to his sick wife? Was he worried that his truck might run out of gas? We have NO IDEA. NONE. NADA. ZIP. ZILCH! The lady with her cart loaded full of groceries and supplies during a time like this...is she really a selfish hoarder? Or is she helping her elderly parents? Is she helping her sister who is a healthcare worker? We have NO IDEA. NONE. NADA. ZIP. ZILCH!
While the reason isn't necessarily an excuse, it would help us understand the 'why' and make us more empathetic. People are doing their best and making their choices for whatever reasons, right, wrong or indifferent. Our journeys, experiences, feelings, beliefs, priorities and lives are different. We haven't a clue about someone based on one action we see in public OR posts made on social media. These are just glimpses into a much bigger picture. Glimpses into the life of a real person. We don't #KnowTheirBackstory. Even if we think we do, we still often don't know the whole story.
Public humiliation just adds insult to injury. It also creates labels. Drew has been "the bad kid" many times before. I am "that mom" and "a horrible wife" according to some. Social shaming is much the same. Posting negative comments about other’s behavior(s) won’t change them- not the behaviors or the person. A negative post is a negative post no matter how good the intention. It's instinctual to want to fight back. We've all done it. I always ask Drew the same question in this situation, "What would happen if we fought a fire with fire?" He knows the drill, "We'd get a bigger fire." Negativity begets negativity and many times a negative post escalates and then spirals out of control.
We all need validation. It helps to talk about things that bother us. It also helps to write down thoughts and feelings. Chances are, the more you're able to process your feelings by talking or writing, the better you'll feel. Is social media the right outlet for processing?
Before posting on social media I ask myself:
“What is the purpose of this post?” “What do I hope to accomplish with this post?” “How is this post helpful?” “Am I sharing positive or negative energy?”
If I’m frustrated or mad, or even sad,
I can usually answer myself right out of posting on social media. After all, Facebook will kindly remind me what I posted each year FOREVER! Lol Instead, my husband usually "gets" to hear about it. Blah, blah, blah….
I also ask myself what social shaming would say about me. If I put others down for their choices it might send an unspoken message that I think I'm better, smarter or superior. That definitely puts an interesting twist on things! People do lots of things that are not for me, things I really don't get. BUT, it's not for me to decide for them and I'm certainly glad they're not deciding for me! It's amazing what can happen when we shift our perspective.
If someone thinks their opinion matters more than someone else's, they might need a second opinion. ;)
Those kids today that we always talk about, those kids are OUR kids and grandkids. 30 years ago, I was a sophomore in high school. (Wow. Talk about perspective!) That means that WE are less empathetic today than we were 30 years ago. Our kids are responding to everything we do, and don't do.
Maybe it's time to consider that normal is subjective. My opinion matters, but it matters most to me and is not more important than anyone else's. I always try to remember before I blow a gasket, social shame or judge someone, that I don't #KnowTheirBackstory. Usually, I know very little, if anything, about their story. When someone is unkind, it helps to remember that their heart hurts. If I think back to the last time I was unkind, it's easy to see why. I was really tired and frustrated. Again, that was the reason, it's not an excuse, but it's easy to see the correlation.
We've all been "that guy" or "that lady" before, so let's give each other a break. Lift each other up. Be positive. Shift our focus. Like they used to say when I was a kid (over 30 years ago!), "Put yourself in someone else's shoes." Our kids and grandkids are taking note. Drew hangs on the edge of his seat literally watching and waiting to see how I react to things. Do I mess that up alot? (As I choke on my coffee...) uhhhh, that would be a big, "YES." I always fall back on the fact that we are all human. We all make mistakes. There is no such thing as perfect. I try to admit when I make mistakes. Mistakes aren't all bad. Mistakes become lessons that help us, and our kids learn! So, teach empathy. Empathy fuels kindness and we need more of that, now more than ever.
Next time someone cuts you off in the grocery store parking lot, don't be a beep. Next time someone has an overflowing cart of stuff at the store, don't be a beep. What's more, stop and reconsider before you take to social media to shame someone for not doing what you would do or what you think they should do.
If anything, reach out and see if you can help, instead.
If Kindergartners can do it, surely, we can, too.
A quick update, FREE quarterly Kindness Kits will be ready in early May. We'll send an email when it's time log in and submit requests! If you haven't created a log-in yet, consider this your personal invitation! We've also added, adapted and updated our outreach activities. below!
Take care of each other and
don't be a beep!