Over the years, I've been invited to many student productions of "Free to Be...You and Me," and my favorite thing about them is watching the kids take ownership of the material -- whether they're stylizing a song or reading a line to match their feeling. Adults often underestimate children's ability to grasp the heart of a concept -- or run with an idea of their own -- but we're wrong. They're a lot smarter and more take-charge than we think.
We're seeing that ability take hold now with bullying. Even as the adults in their lives try to stem this dangerous epidemic, kids who confront the terror every day know that they're at the center of the storm, and they have begun to realize that they have the power to take charge -- to stare down their fears and raise up their voices.
"Giving students a voice is the number one factor that most influences a change in culture, climate and academic performance," reads the mission statement of Utterly Global, an information-packed website that encourages student participation in its strategies to eradicate bullying. "Children are our greatest resource -- value them."
The simple, common-sense wisdom of this approach inspired me to search the web for examples of how kids are expressing their feelings about bullying, and what they're doing to take the reins in this battle. And I needed surf no further than YouTube. Below are a handful of videos I found, and each one, in its own way, gave me hope. Here are real kids -- some who have been bullied, some who have been bystanders, some who have even been the bullies themselves -- joining hands and taking a stand. "Wake up!" they seem to be telling the grownups of the world. "Our lives are at stake."
It all reminds me of that feeling my collaborators and I used to get when we were putting together "Free to Be" 40 years ago -- that deep and optimistic conviction that we could change the world one child at a time. The great difference is, now the kids are trying to do it themselves.
This fall, we'll be partnering with the Ad Council to help parents learn how to engage with their kids about bullying -- and I think one of the first things we'll do is show them some of the videos I found. All of them are exciting and inspiring, because they remind us of how fierce and creative children can be when they band together for something they believe in, and once again show us how much we can learn from them.
So take a look. Some of these videos have viewer numbers that are far too low, and we can help change that by forwarding them to our friends. Meantime, if you've found other videos like these, we'd love for you to share them with us. There's no such thing as too much hope.