A friend of mine, who is an author and writing about teaching kids empathy and compassion, asked me for my opinion on the role of anti-bullying videos in shifting attitudes towards bullying. Here is my answer.
I believe that many anti-bullying campaigns may reinforce bullying, rather than helping to stop or prevent bullying. Most of the anti-bullying videos show stories of victims being bullied, feeling bad, sad and rejected, and how a change of attitude makes them feel better.
My question is, “If kids (and not just kids) could put themselves in their victims’ shoes, they would never bully anyone. What is the point of showing them a video that tries to put them in others’ shoes?”
Well, there is no point!
People bully because they are weak and they do not have any other way that they could think of that could give them strength and power other than bullying others. They have seen someone around them do it – someone has done it to them or they have watched thousands of videos in which verbal, physical or emotional bullying is just a common (“normal”) thing and part of everything they see around them. So by showing another video of bullying, we show them how common it is, instead of showing them that the opposite is more common (“normal”). Campaigns need to focus on good relationships, caring and sharing to give kids the message that “kind = strong” and that “bully = weak”.
If you have ever read my pink elephant posts, you know that in life, you get what you focus on. If you focus anti-bullying videos on bullying, you get more bullying. If you focus on caring, compassion and kindness, you get more caring, compassion and kindness.
In special education, when trying to correct a behavior, we do not mention the undesirable behavior, only the behavior we want to encourage. For example, if kids are nasty to each other, instead of saying, “Don’t be nasty to each other”, it is better to say, “Be kind to each other and play well together”.
I want you to go to the Internet and search for bullying images. Now, tell me how many photos of kindness and caring you see. We want to erase this behavior and we promote it instead!
We have all seen thousands of “stop smoking” images and signs. Did they ever make anyone stop smoking? If you ask smokers what the signs make them feel, they will tell you they makes them want to smoke. So why do people think this works differently with anti-bullying videos and anti-bullying banners?
I am the Queensland, Australia state director of a non-profit organization that focuses on diversity education. We had a successful program running for about 7 years. I reached 10,000 kids a year personally and sometimes even more. It all worked perfectly. The shift was big. We successfully shifted kids’ attitude towards “others who are different from me”. And when I say “big shift”, I mean really big. We changed schools. We changed neighborhoods. We did a great job.
Then, the government came and said, “We want this program to be available to all. We want to save money, so let’s put your program online and make videos that all the kids will be able to watch”.
My team in Queensland, which was the most active team, protested. Our greatest advantage was the personal touch. Our message was that only personal experience could change attitudes. Academic research done on our program had concluded that knowledge about others did not change attitude. Reading a book about disabled children does not change the readers’ attitude towards disabled children. Watching a video about other culture’s customs does not change the attitude of the watchers towards that culture.
This protest didn’t help us. We had worked with thousands of kids. We could compare the effectiveness of our work based on the delivery strategy, but no one cared. Face to face was “the old-fashioned way” of doing things. Online was the new way.
These online videos were the death of the organization. The videos sit there as the eulogy of a great organization, which died so young because it didn’t understand that kids watch thousands of YouTube videos a year, so another video will do nothing at all. It will just disappear in the noise.
A change of attitude only happens when we experience something. Unfortunately, watching TV or online videos passively is not a strong enough experience.
My 14-year-old daughter Noff watches thousands of videos a year. She is a typical girl in that respect. She was highly touched by an Anzac ceremony of an old person who came to school and shared something personal with them. He stood there. He was alive. He was personal.
Every year, in Australia, we have Anzac ceremonies to commemorate fallen soldiers. Kids hate them. They roll their eyes at them, take a deep breath and just wait for them to finish. Noff came home that day and shared the old man’s story with me in tears.
No video in the world can do that. The brain filters those videos as manipulation through acting. It is “just another video”. People watch movies, spend money to go to the cinema and filter the messages. They spend more time talking about the actors and celebrities than the messages.
I am afraid that videos have lost much of their power to change attitudes.
For kids (and, I think, for grownups as well), videos are just moving pictures, sharing a situation, event or possible scenario. Even if they feel anything towards them (which is the only way to make a shift), that space is taken over 5 minutes later by the next video.
Sorry! In my opinion, anti-bullying videos disappear in the overload of videos and miss the opportunity to do something serious.
Education is the only weapon against bullying and education cannot be done through videos. Knowledge can be transferred through videos, but knowledge does not change attitudes.
Let’s go back from anti-bullying videos to the “old-fashioned” ways of educating towards kindness and caring by modeling kindness and caring personally, face to face.
Only kindness matters!