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Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

Day 18: Kindness and Respect Challenge (Where’s my social courage?)

October 18, 2013

It's right there and it's already yours

If doing the right thing were easy it would be called A Day at the Beach. Instead it’s call social courage and it’s often missing in action when we need it. Why is that? Because we’re as wired for peer approval as we are for empathy. If your gut says you ought to stand up for the underdog or for tolerance but your peeps aren’t into that stuff, you’re going to feel stuck. You might wonder: “Do I shut up and play it safe? (Those who don’t try, never look foolish.) Or should I speak up and risk ridicule (or worse)?”

If you’ve ever had someone regale you with offensive jokes, maybe you’ve experienced this dilemma. I have. And while the guy across the table blithely displayed his racism, sexism and homophobia, I mentally screamed my righteous indignation. But did I say anything to Mr. I. M. A. Jerk? Nope. Chickened out. Kept my mouth shut. And felt deeply ashamed of myself for weeks.

Like I said, sometimes it’s hard for adults to do the right thing. Imagine how much harder it can be for kids.

Like this 6th grader:

Hey Terra, When I’m with my friends I don’t behave. And even though I don’t want to act cool and kinda mean, I have no other choice! I don’t wanna be with them any more. But if I leave to be with nicer girls, they’ll call me names like “You’re a user.” HELP! —Maggie

Dear Maggie,

I can tell you are a good-hearted person because you are bothered by the way your friends are acting. You don’t feel right being mean. Your self-awareness is your friend. It’s your Inner Voice. Listen closely and it can guide you in the direction of being a good person.

I understand it’s scary to leave one group and go to another. Especially if you’re worried that your old friends may turn their meanness on you! That might happen. And it might not. But what are your choices? If you stay with these girls and continue to doing things to hurt other people you’ll add to the bullying and meanness in your school. Your school already has plenty of that social garbage and doesn’t need any more. Also, if you stick with these friends you will lose respect for yourself. You don’t ever want to lose that.

On the other hand, if you leave this group to be with “nicer” girls, you will add to what is good about your school. You’ll feel happier and more relaxed. You’ll feel proud of yourself.

The choice is yours. Good luck!

In friendship,


See Day 21 of the Kindness and Respect Challenge



The cure for “mean kid” behavior

November 27, 2012

I originally wrote this article for where I write a weekly education post. Check out the rest of my articles there.

Get the message? Got it? Good!

Whenever I communicate from a school stage or from my computer, I tell students that our choices should reflect the kind of people we really are. Most of us are good people who care about others. We have a strong sense of fairness. We like to be helpful. We try to understand the other person’s point of view.

Very few of us are truly “mean.” And yet, we often exhibit downright mean behavior (online and off). Whenever I get the chance, I challenge students to think about why that’s the case. I also challenge them to stand up for what’s right, acknowledging that it’s not always easy, especially when no one is standing with you.

Most kids older than the age of five, really do know the difference between right and wrong. But they don’t always do the right thing. Our 21st-century culture of cruelty coupled with a sense of entitlement has taught kids (and many adults) that looking out for anyone but themselves is a sign of weakness.

More: What Every Parent Should Know: How to Help Your Kids Deal With Peer Conflicts at School

Going out of one’s way to be nice to a popular kid, however, will likely earn a student some popularity points of his/her own. But being kind to an “underdog,” especially when popular kids are watching, well, that can be a high-risk move. So can turning down a demand from another student to copy from one’s test paper or refusing to cheat in other ways. And so, kids may feel stuck between their natural inclinations to do the right thing vs. doing whatever it takes to be liked or to get ahead.

We’ve taken a tunnel vision approach to school for long enough, with most of our resources going toward test taking. What’s the point of education without a focus on improving one’s character? Parents and teachers need to make a concerted effort to help students develop the social courage it takes to stand up and be moral leaders. How? Well, here’s an excerpt from my book Teaching Kids to Be Good People, that shows a simple way for us to begin lessons in social courage.

Share this quote with students: “The time is always right to do what is right.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

Ask, “What do you think about this? Is it true? Too simplistic?”

Talk about a time when you or someone else was being treated unfairly and you stepped up and did the right thing. What happened?

Talk about a time when you didn’t help promote respect, peace, and fairness. What held you back?

Create a challenge to increase acts of social courage. You’ll need paper strips (11 x 2 inches), tape, and a pen.

  • Think about a time you stepped up and did the right thing when someone needed a friend or a message of peace. Write a sentence about what you did on a strip of paper and sign your name.
  • Connect your strip with someone else’s and create “links” using tape.
  • Got more than one act of social courage? Make another link!

Each day keep adding to the chain by actively looking for opportunities to be “brave” in situations where someone needs to do the right thing. As a group, talk about any positive changes you notice in yourself, your family, your school.



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