Gossip and rumors can create a toxic environment. This week, if your friends start talking behind someone’s back, remove yourself and go do something else. Let your friends know that you think bad-mouthing people is a waste of time and you don’t want to be involved. You can try phrases like, “Why are we spreading rumors about her? Let’s talk about something more interesting,” or “Come on, this is ridiculous. Don’t we have better things to do?” or “I’m sorry guys, I’m not comfortable talking about her while she’s not here.” You may shock your friends by calling them out, but in time, they may just thank you.
Think for a second about how you would feel if you were new at school and didn’t know anyone. You’d probably really appreciate someone reaching out to include you.³³ This week, see if you can be that person for someone else. You can say, “Hey, I don’t think we’ve met yet, I’m___.” or extend a handshake and say, “Hey, I’m ___! What’s your name?” The rest will sort itself out.
“Hey, what’s that?!” Creating a distraction can be a great way to help someone get out of a tough spot. If you see a friend being harassed this week and it feels safe to jump in, consider creating a distraction. You could tell them that a teacher needs to see them in their classroom right away or that you lost your wallet and need help finding it. It might be just the excuse they need to get out of the situation.
Your environment can have a big impact on your mood. But did you know that, according to one study, connectedness to your environment and feelings of support lead to better emotional health?³² This week, talk to a teacher or a guidance counselor about creating a safe space in your school where students can relax and study without fear of being bullied. You could propose finding a location near the guidance office or the nurse’s office. Wherever it may be, just knowing it exists can give you and other students a huge sense of relief.
It’s common to feel regret after you don’t stand up for someone being treated unkindly. If that’s ever been you, it’s okay. This week is your chance to prevent it from happening again. Pick a person you feel safe approaching to talk about why something they did was hurtful. Consider saying something like, “Hey, can I talk to you about what you said in the hallway yesterday? I think it really hurt ___’s feelings.” They may not even realize what they did was wrong.
According to one 2012 study, 70% of students report seeing frequent bullying online. You can help turn the tide by showing support for someone who has been cyberbullied or excluded this week. You could like or comment on their posts with positivity, or if it feels comfortable and you think they’d be okay with it, post something on their wall that lets them know you’re in their corner, like an inspiring GIF or a picture of the two of you that you know they’ll like. You can write something like, “___, I love the face you’re making in this photo! I’m so happy we’re friends.” If they don’t want to be called out on social media, try sending them a private message.
I recently posted a link on Facebook to an article that discussed research showing that in schools with GSAs (Gay/Straight Alliance) “the odds of suicidal thoughts were cut in half for lesbians, gays and bisexuals. And heterosexual boys were half as likely to attempt suicide.” In other words, “Simply Having a Gay Straight Alliance Reduces Suicide Risk for All Students.” GSAs benefit everyone because they teach that every student is unique and valuable, and we can always do more to protect our students.
That’s why it was disappointing to see that in the 2019 Safe & Supportive Schools Report Card recently issued by the Equality California Institute, Ojai Unified was listed as a no-show. It’s unfortunate because accurate information and research is critical to serving our students, and to get that information requires the support and cooperation of school districts. It’s also unfortunate that we weren’t represented because I personally know the hard work OUSD dedicates to creating safe supportive schools for all students.
Yes, these surveys can be a lot of work. But when they are asking important questions, as was this one, the work is worth it. My hopes are that the next time this comes around, we will participate.
For now, I agree with what State Superintendent Tony Thurmond said: “I encourage you to use this report as a tool to advance equality in your classrooms and the health and well-being of students in your communities. District leaders, reach out to your peers who have found success in making their schools safer. Parents, teachers and students, reach out to your school administrators and elected school board members and speak up during opportunities to provide public comment. Teachers unions, PTA members and community leaders, advocate for more inclusive policies and practices in your district.”
One of the easiest ways to improve your life and the lives of those around you is by helping others. Pay attention to moments when you notice people in need of help. Team up with a friend and see how many different people you can help this week. A mother struggling to carry a stroller? Lend her a hand! A younger student in the hallway looking lonely? Say hi! Compare notes with your friend throughout the week for ideas and inspiration.
Sometimes talking really is the best therapy. In fact, speaking your mind is a proven way to instantly increase your happiness. If you’re going through a tough time, talk to someone about it. It can be a parent, an older sibling, a close friend, or a teacher. Just find someone you trust and focus on expressing what you’re feeling. If you’re not sure how to start the conversation, you can simply say, “Hey, can I talk to you about something?” If you can’t find the right person to talk to, contact one of the resources on our help page—help is just a text or call away.
Studies show that gratitude is an emotional state that can provide strength and resilience to those who express it often. This week, we want you to exercise your gratitude muscles. First, write a list of 3 times you missed opportunities to express gratitude or tell someone how much they mean to you. It doesn’t matter if it happened yesterday or last year. Next, go out and make up for the misses. If you have a former teacher who really impacted you, you could say, “I never thanked you for all the valuable lessons you gave me.” If you have a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while, you could say, “I never told you how important our friendship is to me, and I’m sorry we drifted apart.” If doing it in person is too hard, give it a try over email or text.