An earlier version of this post misstated the groups that did research into how differently kids and their parents view incidents of bullying. The research was done by DoSomething.org and the Ad Council. This version has been corrected.
Let’s hear it for peer pressure.
You read that right. I am in full support of the power of kids to coerce, wheedle and in other ways influence others in their cohort to change behavior. What’s more, the federal government agrees.
That’s why Thursday the Department of Health and Human Services’ Stopbullying.gov is kicking off a new campaign called “Be More Than a Bystander.” It calls on kids to put an end to the age-old problem that’s still pernicious in this age of social media.
You’ll be seeing lots of public service announcements put together by the king of the PSA, the Ad Council.
Before you guffaw and wonder how kids can solve a problem that has confounded adults for generations, I say kids are the only people who can convince other kids that something is uncool and done only by losers.
Consider smoking. A generation ago, teen smoking rates were at record highs in this country, as smoking enjoyed the cachet of being a “grown-up” thing to do. But from 2000 to 2011, high school smoking rates went from 27.9 percent to 15.8 percent and among middle-schoolers from 10.7 percent to 4.3 percent. Yes, during that period, adults were telling kids that smoking was unhealthy. But far more important, kids were telling other kids it was uncool and gross.
The anti-bullying campaign aims to meet kids where they live, on Facebook and Twitter as well as on television, in a blatant ploy to harness the power of the kid.
“Kids have an incredible sense of right and wrong. If you can tap into their sense of injustice and tell them there are things that they can do, kids can get really excited about that,” Peggy Conlon, president and chief executive of the Ad Council, told me recently.
The idea behind the campaign is “changing the social norm around bullying the same way we did about . . . drunk driving or smoking,” Conlon said, citing other high-profile projects the Ad Council has worked on.
But alas, parents, this doesn’t mean that we can breathe a sigh of relief and say, “Oh, good, I no longer have to worry about bullying because kids and the government are all over that.”
Just the opposite. Conlon doesn’t believe that kids can stop bullying on their own and says research shows that along with those fun parenting conversations on sex, drugs and smoking, we really need to be talking to our kids about bullying.
Research done by DoSomething.org and the Ad Council showed that while 80 percent of kids report seeing bullying behavior, only 51 percent of parents think their kids have real-life exposure to the problem.
“While parents are very concerned about bullying, they’re not proactive, they’re reactive,” Conlon said. “They don’t communicate skills for dealing with bullying. They wait for kids to come to them, which may be too late.”
So, how do we arm our kids to put an end to bullying? Stopbullying.gov offers no-nonsense advice, and I suggest you go there with your child. Saying “let’s look at this Web site” is far more likely to get a positive reaction than “sit down on the couch while we talk.”
Two suggestions Conlon offers are so filled with common sense and compassion that they could have come from a kid:
●Befriend the bullied. It can really lessen the impact of the bullying behavior and make the person being bullied feel less alone.
●Don’t give the bully an audience. That is, after all, what they probably want most of all.
It’s a worthy conversation to have. It’s a topic on which we should empower our kids to be their best selves. Already, they will raise their kids in a more smoke-free, environmentally conscious world than the one we gave them.
So why couldn’t they end bullying? All it requires is a little peer pressure.
Grant, the editor of KidsPost, writes about parenting issues every other week.