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New study reports benefits of tween kindness

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
kindness, happiness, tweens, preadolescents, bullying, popularity

Most parents want their children to perform well academically in school; in addition, they want them to be good, be happy, and be popular. They also prefer that their children are not on the giving or receiving end of bullying. A new study focused on promoting kindness among teens and measuring the benefits. Researchers affiliated with the University of British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada) published their findings on December 27 in the journal PLoS ONE.

The researchers noted that to the best of their knowledge, their study is the first longitudinal experimental intervention of prosocial behavior (voluntary behavior intended to benefit another) in preadolescents (tweens; children aged nine through 12 years); in addition, it is the first to link a manipulation of a simple helping behavior to increases in sociometric popularity (as assessed by peer reports). The goal of the study was to explore whether doing good for others (versus engaging in a simple pleasant activity) over a four week period weeks would simultaneously increase happiness and promote positive relationships with peers. The study group comprised more than 400 tweens who attended 19 elementary school classrooms in Vancouver, British Columbia. The children were randomly assigned to two groups. Half the tweens were asked by teachers to keep track of pleasant places they visited, such as playgrounds, baseball diamonds, shopping centers, or a grandparent’s house. The other students were asked to perform acts of kindness. They provided examples to the children, such as sharing their lunch or giving their mom a hug when she felt stressed by her job; however, they left it up to the students to decide what an act of kindness was.

The researchers predicted that committing kind acts (i.e., carrying groceries) and tracking whereabouts (i.e., visiting their grandparent’s house or the mall) would both be rewarding activities that would increase well-being in tweens. The focus of the whereabouts task was designed to be a mildly pleasant and distracting control activity.

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The students were asked to report how happy they were and identify classmates they would like to work with in school activities. After four weeks, both groups reported that they were happier; however, the tweens who had performed acts of kindness reported experiencing greater acceptance from their peers: they were chosen most often by other students as children the other students wanted to work with.

According to the researchers, bullying often increases in grades 4 and 5. They explained that by simply asking the children to briefly and regularly act kindly to those around them, the likelihood increased that the children would interact more positively with others in the classroom; thus, reducing instances of the bullying and teasing.

In conclusion, the authors wrote: “Our study demonstrates that doing good for others benefits the givers, earning them not only improved well-being but also popularity. Considering the importance of happiness and peer acceptance in youth, it is noteworthy that we succeeded in increasing both among preadolescents through a simple prosocial activity. Similar to being happy, being well-liked by classmates has ramifications not only for the individual, but also for the community at large. For example, well-liked preadolescents exhibit more inclusive behaviors and less externalizing behaviors (i.e., less bullying) as teens. Thus, encouraging prosocial activities may have ripple effects beyond increasing the happiness and popularity of the doers. Furthermore, classrooms with an even distribution of popularity (i.e., no favorite children and no marginalized children) show better average mental health than stratified classrooms, suggesting that entire classrooms practicing prosocial behavior may reap benefits, as the liking of all classmates soars. Teachers and interventionists can build on our work by introducing intentional prosocial activities into classrooms and recommending that such activities be performed regularly and purposefully.”

Reference: PLoS ONE

See also: Reasons why your child might be a target of bullying