By Alisa Taylor

It seems so simple. Just be kind to each other. Mean comments online have far-reaching effects and can be devastating for our kids. What starts off as something meant to be funny or a joke, can quickly escalate into something embarrassing or hurtful. A child’s fragile self-esteem can be shattered in one disparaging remark or one unassuming photo. With so many kids fuelling their confidence through their online personas and the reliance upon “hearts” and “likes” for self-preservation, it is not a surprise that self-esteem is falling. In a recent UK study, researchers found that just 33% of 14 and 15 year old girls felt good about themselves. Researchers suggested that the decline in girls’ self esteem was linked to their online activity.

With the ability to share messages and pictures now, cyberbullying, hurtful comments and the pressure to “act” a certain way online is a new dimension our kids have to navigate. These online pressures spill into real life for them. As parents, we didn’t have this online world to navigate growing up. The mean words ended at the school yard or in a note we could tear up and throw away. They didn’t follow us home and spread to our safe places. But there is something we can encourage and model for our kids that will not only contribute to a healthier and safer environment both online and offline, but will also improve their well being. Kindness.

Random acts of kindness are scientifically shown to help us lead longer, happier, more energetic lives. That feeling we get after performing a kind act or doing a good deed is often referred to as the ‘Helper’s High’. The term was coined by Allan Luks and is described as “the powerful physical feelings people experience when directly helping others”.

Acts of kindness contribute to the release of the hormone oxytocin which plays a role in lowering blood pressure and improved cardiovascular health. Oxytocin also assists in reducing inflammation, which contributes to the aging process. In a study in the Journal of Social Psychology, a group of participants who performed a daily act of kindness for 10 days reported a higher boost of happiness compared to the group who did not. And possibly the best side effect of kindness? The fact that it is contagious.

One kind, thoughtful comment or gesture has a ripple effect that can positively influence the recipient, those who witness the act as well as the kindness provider. Those feel-good emotions that are stimulated, tend to reinforce the power of a good deed and motivates us to keep it going.

Our kids don’t have to be friends with everyone they meet or talk to online, but we can encourage them to be kind to everyone. The spread of mean messages can be prevented by a movement towards kindness and the upward spiral that follows. Encourage your kids to choose kindness and they will live a happier, healthier life because of it.

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”   – Maya Angelou

Alisa is a former Criminal Intelligence Analyst and has worked in law enforcement for the last 15 years. She is passionate about keeping kids safe and kind online and ensuring they thrive in our digital world. When Alisa isn’t online, you might spot her in the YEG river valley with her dogs, husband, and daughter or escaping the city for a weekend of camping.  You can follow Alisa on her blog The Lotus Page as well as on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram
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