This past week, a girl at my school started a "compliments" Facebook page, in which compliments that anyone submits about anyone else can be posted anonymously. A lot of schools have been participating in this movement in order to counteract bullying and spread compassion among teens. What's truly astonishing is that Facebook, a website that can be used as a medium for cyberbullying, can at the same time aid efforts to prevent it. I was completely floored reading the compliments that people had for each other. In the first night, over 70 were posted, which truly goes to show what a great community I have and how considerate people can be when they try.
Recently, bullying has taken on such a different meaning from its traditional definition. My school uses a great term for it, "relational aggression," which typically occurs between girls. It includes but is not limited to teasing, making someone feel excluded, isolation, gossiping, unkind body language and humiliation. I would be lying if I said I've never participated in relational aggression -- I'm sure almost everyone has, probably without even knowing it. I would also be lying if I said that I've never been on its receiving end, and it definitely isn't fun.
So how do we get teens to stop bullying? There's a myriad of complicated reasons for why bullying happens and why bystanders do nothing about it; no one wants to be THAT person who calls out another for being mean. But to me, it boils down to one simple thing: insecurity. Putting someone else down seems to elevate you in the social hierarchy and make you feel better about yourself. Eliminating teenage girls' insecurities is perhaps a Herculean feat, but through changes such as a Facebook page filled with compliments, it is possible to create a tighter-knit, united community. Merely the awareness that what you say, what you do and how you act impacts others significantly can change a lot about your behavior. Just a simple "Hey guys, let's make the circle bigger" to include others goes such a long way.
Above all, school should be a place where students feel safe. Teens should never have to stay at home to avoid issues at school. Of course, I would be naïve in asserting that bullying is a problem that can be solved overnight or even solved completely. No matter what, there will always be mean people who feed off of belittling others. But by talking about it, raising awareness, and empowering teens to speak out and stand up for themselves when they feel hurt or bullied, you can take steps in order to become a better-integrated, safer community. And if you feel so inclined, start a compliments page for your school! You'll be pleasantly surprised at what a great community you have. I know I was.