The book description on Amazon for Kindness Wins by Galit Breen says it is, “An indispensable 21st-century manual of manners written for 21st-century parents and their children.”
That is true, but I would say it is much more. The book’s target audience comprises parents, teachers and coaches of children Grade school and early Middle school. My daughters, at fifteen and seventeen are now in that grey no-man’s land between childhood and adulthood so I don’t come into that target audience. Yet, Kindness Wins spoke to me too. I had several, “Aha” moments while reading it.
The Format of Kindness Wins
Apart from the introduction, the book has 10 main chapters. Each of these discusses a guideline for online decency. Each chapter has a mix of personal anecdote, observation and suggestions. It also has points to discuss with your children and with your peers, and “Takeaways.” These takeaways are bullet pointed distillations of each chapter, and include action steps to follow.
Galit Breen’s philosophy (which I share)
Take, for example, this sentence from the introduction:
“With every fiber of my being, I believe that our children are fundamentally good.”
Reading that, I sensed a kindred spirit.
A little further on, Breen continues: “I have a theory that deep down inside, just like we’re all inherently good, we also already know what’s right. But sometimes that knowing gets muddled.”
This is from the About page of my Inquiring Parent blog: “I believe that we all intuitively know how to parent, how to be kind, how to live, but often we can’t connect with our own intuition, to the inner voice that shows us the way. We’re too busy listening to the clatter of voices in our minds.”
With every fiber of my being, I believe our children are fundamentally good. Galit Breen.
So Galit Breen and I are on the same page. It is however, fair to say we got there by different means, that our individual life experiences shape the specifics of our approaches to parenting and life. And that’s absolutely fine. In Kindness Wins, Breen says several times that parents benefit from discussions with each other – not so they can tell each other what to do, but can encourage, reassure and provide the support needed for each to find their own solutions. She is very clear that each family makes its own decisions based on what’s right for it, and that she cannot give hard and fast rules about what to do in every situation.
10 Simple Rules
So although the blurb says the book contains,“10 simple rules of conduct for online decency,” with one exception, these rules are not prescriptive instructions of what we should and should not allow tweens to say online. Instead, the rules are mostly either common sense strategies or information about how the internet works.
The first chapter title is an example of the common sense type of rule: “Not My Kid.”
In other words: don’t assume your kid would never get into a sticky situation on the internet.
An example of an information rule is: “The Internet Isn’t Permanent but It Is Public and It is Loud.”
In other words: yes, you or your child might be able to delete an embarrassing photo, but in the few minutes it was on your Facebook wall or Instagram feed, or even on Snapchat, someone could take a screenshot and send it all around the internet.
This information isn’t just useful for children. It’s useful for all of us. It’s the sort of thing most of us know, but don’t always consider. Because sometimes, “Not my kid,” becomes, “Oh, not me. My friends would never do that.” And my friends wouldn’t – but I have dozens of Facebook “friends” and hundreds of Twitter and Google+ followers that I’ve accepted because someone else I know knows them, even if I’ve never met that someone else in person. When I began writing online and accepted friend requests from other people who wrote on the same site I did, I realised that I needed to regard anything I shared online as public – because really it was. So I totally get what Galit means, when she says, “Never say anything you don’t want people to know. Anyone could read what you write. It’s public.”
Before her kids signed up to Instagram, Breen took them through some of their friends Instagram feeds and discussed with her children what they saw.
I was genuinely (naively?) surprised by some of the things Breen described, such as girls getting together to freeze someone out by not ‘liking’ her posts, or that kids posts photos of themselves asking others, “Rate me.”
At the risk of sounding as if I’m saying, “Not my kid,” this truly has not happened to my kids. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me, they and their friends have never used social media in the way Breen illustrates. Neither of my girls even have Facebook accounts, so I asked a friend of theirs if she sees this type of bullying behaviour. It turns out she has a Facebook account, but hardly ever uses it.
My daughters both spend hours on Tumblr, but the interactions they encounter are different to those Breen describes. One writes fan fiction, so people like her stories, and she feels pleased if a story gets a lot of likes. My other daughter occasionally posts Gifs, and again is pleased to get likes. While they do have heated discussions about characters in the shows they watch, they’ve not yet had a nasty encounter. I’m tempted to say it’s simply because they are older, but I know that’s not true. I’ve seen terrible abuse in comments written by adults, and Galit Breen’s motivation for writing Kindness Wins was the personal abuse she received after writing about her wedding.
While reading Kindness Wins, I discussed this with my daughters. I think perhaps we are simply fortunate that bullying doesn’t occur much either on or off line in their lives. One of my daughters was bullied in primary school (the UK equivalent of Grade school) and her teacher dealt with it compassionately and firmly. In High school (ages roughly 12 – 18) the early years had cliques of “popular” kids, but by around 14 these dissolved away. The girls have a friend with Asperger’s and sometimes kids have shouted at her. According the girls, she shrugs it off, but just in case, they defend her anyway. I was pleased to hear this, though we did discuss the possibility they try next time to call out the bullies without resorting to their language.
How to call someone out with grace and kindness. Tweet
This brings me neatly to an aspect of Kindness Wins that impressed me most of all – how to call someone out with grace and kindness. I loved this section, because it so important when we see someone behave inappropriately not to do the same thing when we challenge them. So important, and sometimes difficult, so I love that Breen includes suggestions and examples. I also love that both in this chapter and throughout the book, she includes examples of times she said things that weren’t kind (not online) and that friends gently guided her to the understanding she needed. Breen says that by sharing our mistakes with others, we help them to open up too. I agree.
And, because kindness has to start with ourselves, I love that in one of the examples, her friend guides her to see it’s okay to have self-compassion.
I met Galit Breen online a few months ago, when she joined in 1000 Voices Speak For Compassion. It’s been enjoyable to get to know her better through Kindness Wins and I am pleased to recommend it to you. Galit is a former teacher, who began freelance writing in 2009. She has been featured in several online magazines, including Brain, Child and Huffington Post. She lives with her husband, children and dog in Minnesota. Her website is These Little Waves
Update: Amazon has Kindness Wins on a 99 cent sale for this week, today June 24th through the 28th. Grab your copy now.
Kindness Wins by Galit Breen only 99c on Amazon, June 24th through 28th Tweet
Disclaimer: I am an Amazon Associate, so if you click on the Amazon link at the top of this post to purchase Kindness Wins, I will receive a small commission. (Please do!)