New UBCO research indicates teenagers are kinder than we think - InfoNews

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New UBCO research indicates teenagers are kinder than we think

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July 08, 2020 - 4:30 PM

A UBC Okanagan kindness researcher's latest study shows adolescents don't live up to the stereotype — often portrayed in media reports about bullying and cyber harassment — that teens are mean.

John-Tyler Binfet, an education professor and kindness researcher at UBCO, recently published a study which found Central Okanagan students were up to the challenge of performing acts of kindness when provided with some encouragement.

Grade 9 students were asked to rate how kind they think they are in both online and in-person interactions, according to a UBCO media release. Then they were asked to plan and complete five kindness acts during a week.

“There’s been a shift in schools in recent years to move away from anti-bullying initiatives to efforts that embrace and promote pro-social behaviour,” Binfet said in the release. “There is an emphasis on kindness throughout school curriculum, but little is known about how youth actually enact kindness.”

The 191 students completed 943 acts of kindness, with 94 per cent of participants completing three or more of their assigned acts. The kind acts ranged from helping with chores, being respectful, complimenting or encouraging others and giving away items like pencils or money for the vending machine.

Binfet found if students are presented with a structured opportunity to be kind, they’re likely to perform acts of kindness.

“They’re certainly strife in the life of teens, but there’s a lot of great stuff that they’re doing,” Binfet said. “What’s really curious is that, and this is consistent with previous research when asked to be kind, adolescents in particular, will do ‘arms-length kindness’ to people they already know. They don’t tend to extend the kindness to others they don’t know.”

Parents and educators play a role in guiding that starting point in spreading kindness to others outside of that group, he said. While kids tend to look out for themselves as they learn to navigate the world, encouragement from peers and adults can help them see the world from a broader perspective.

“When given an invitation, kids readily step up,” he said. “They just need an invitation to enact or demonstrate some kindness.”

Binfet's study can be found in the Canadian Journal of School Psychology here.

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