Every morning after I check my email and read the latest updates from The Kitchen’s Garden (a great blog I follow–check it out here), I open Yahoo news and scan the day’s headlines. In addition to the latest global and national news, there is also the plenty of celebrity gossip. And from reading all of these news articles one could easily come to the following conclusion: The best thing to do when someone says or does something you object to is say or do something they object to–an “if they hurt me, I will hurt them” mentality–and the more public the response, the better.
When this is how adults choose to behave, it really should come as no surprise to anyone that middle schoolers–a group to whom peer and social pressure are as powerful as Zeus to the Ancient Greeks–can be downright awful to each other, especially when encouraged in this behavior.
Lesson Four: Kindness is never the wrong move. Being cruel always is.
If I could convince middle schoolers of any one thing, it would be this. Kindness is never wrong. It doesn’t matter what a person has done to you, how annoying or mean or ridiculous a person is, or how badly you are hurt, cruelty is not the answer. I have never met a person who has regretted being kind to someone, but I have met plenty of people that regretted cruelty.
Cruelty does nothing but:
- Escalate the situation: If I hit back at anyone who hurts me and they do the same, where does it end?
- Bring you to the level of those being cruel to you: It drags you down, you loose the moral high ground, and it doesn’t make you feel any better in the long run.
- Encourage division, not unity and empathy: Things are sorely lacking in our world.
That is not to say that middle school students can’t be kind. I know many, many wonderful middle schoolers who do (and have done) amazing, wonderful, kind things for their family, friends, and even for complete strangers. I have personally taught students who have dedicated hundreds of hours to volunteer work and service projects to say nothing of the every day kindness I have witnessed of a hug when someone is down, a shared lunch when one is forgotten, or the inclusion of a left out classmate. It is easy, though, to be kind to people who are kind to us, who “deserve” it, and to the innocent and victims. It is not so easy to be kind to those who have hurt us or annoy us or just plain push our buttons.
So how do we convince our middle school students of of the importance of not being cruel. Here are a couple of suggestions:
- Call out kindness. Publicly if it is appropriate; privately if it is not. Positive reinforcement does wonders.
- Call out cruelty as well. This is almost always better in private than public. Calling out cruelty publicly often only serves to embarrass the transgressor, and this makes them more likely to offend again–to hit back since they are hurt.
- Make sure that students know that being kind does not mean not reporting bullying or cruelty to those in charge: Being kind does not mean excusing or ignoring cruelty and bullying. It means justice, not revenge. Sometimes reporting to a teacher or other authority figure is not just important, but imperative to getting the cruelty to stop. If a student brings you a concern, don’t downplay it or brush it aside. For a middle schooler to come to a teacher with a problem of this nature takes a lot of courage and going against peer pressure, and it probably means that the transgression has been going on for some time and/or is quite serious.
- When dealing with those that have been cruel, encourage them to understand why what they did is wrong, not just give lip service to a forced apology. Depending on who and what you are dealing with, this may be easier at some times than at others. Getting friends to make up is a lot easier than getting the class bully to understand what is wrong with his or her behavior.
- Do not let the cruelty continue: Whatever you need to do, once you know about ongoing cruelty, you must stop it. By allowing it to continue when you know it is happening, you are giving your unspoken stamp of approval to it.
- Always model kindness yourself: In your interactions with colleges, with your students, with those you know and don’t know, even in how you talk about the world at large. Remember, your students are always watching and learning even when you think they are not.
I would love to hear your stories of the kindness of middle schoolers and how you encourage this in your classroom. Feel free to share in the comments section below.
Have a great day and…
This Week’s Featured Product
These two print and go quizzes on the characters of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare are designed to be used after reading the play. They make great comprehension checks or review activities. Keys included. For more details or to download this product, click here!
This Week’s Journal Questions
For the teacher and the student: Describe a time when someone was unusually kind to you when they didn’t have to be. How did it make you feel?
A Recipe from My Kitchen:
No-Bake Peanut Butter Protein Balls
- 2 cups all-natural peanut butter (use the kind made with just peanuts and salt–otherwise your consistency will be off)
- 1/2 cup honey
- 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 3 cups rolled oats
- 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
- a pinch of salt
- 3/4 cup mini chocolate chips
- 2-6 teaspoons water
- In a large bowl, stir peanut butter, honey, and vanilla extract together until well-combined.
- Add oats, coconut, salt, and chips and mix together.
- Add water one teaspoon at a time until the mixture will form balls when rolled. (Hint: Make the balls whatever size you desire, but remember these are pretty substantial snacks. I like mine about 1.5 inches in diameter.)
- Store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to a week.