Battling bullies with kindness

The Kind Campaign is out to tackle the bullying issue and raise awareness in schools.

On the road with "Finding Kind"

Lauren Parsekian (right) and Molly Stroud (left) pose with a girl at the Boys and Girls Club in New Orleans. (Photo courtesy of Lauren Parkesian)

Lauren Parsekian is on a mission: To help bring awareness to the topic of bullying by offering solutions to schools across the country. Parsekian, 24, and her business partner, Molly Stroud, 23, who she met in college at Pepperdine, have a new documentary on the topic, "Finding Kind." I spoke with Parsekian about "Finding Kind" and how she plans to help parents and kids come together and face this problem head on through her Kind Campaign (kindcampaign.com).

Weigel: Why is this topic so close to your heart?

Parsekian: When I was in grade school I was a target of some rumors that started from people I thought were my friends. It created two years of isolation and depression. I developed an eating disorder. I even tried to take my own life. When you are that age, what's going on at school seems like your entire world and it's hard to imagine you will have other chapters.

Weigel: What exactly is the Kind Campaign?

Parsekian: It really upset me that girls are so mean to each other, so Molly and I decided to get on the road and travel the country and see if we could get the word out to other females that we need to stop being competitive and mean with each other and start supporting each other. Kind was the word we kept using, so it became our "Kind Campaign." We know that not everyone can become best friends, but the goal is to stop the cattiness and the hatred and all the things that lead to depression. We created a school program and brought cameras along with us. Eventually, that journey became our movie, "Finding Kind."

Weigel: Why do you think girls opened up to you so much when you were on the road?

Parsekian: Girls seem to connect to me because I understand what they are going through. I've been there. We've all been on both sides of this issue. And since both Molly and I are recently out of college, it wasn't that long ago. But sometimes they would look right at us and say, "I don't think this is a problem." But we set up a booth with the camera where girls could go in and just talk to the camera without anyone hearing what they said. We called this the "Truth Booth." They would open up and break down. Girls would say they started rumors on purpose about another girl because they were jealous of how pretty they were. And others would admit to feeling so alone they didn't want to keep living.

Weigel: Was there one common theme that you heard from the girls you interviewed about how the bullying changed their lives?

Parsekian: We'd hear that people were insecure, or feeling pressure to fit in. Most of the kids wished they felt more comfortable with themselves. What their friends thought of them was so important. They would feel empty inside if they weren't accepted.

Weigel: What can kids do if they see this happening?

Parsekian: If you just took the time to sit next to that kid nobody sits with at the cafeteria, or maybe said "Hi" to someone you don't normally acknowledge—these small steps can make a big difference. We call this being a "change maker." I was surprised to hear how many people remembered the nice things as well as the mean things that were done to them.

Weigel: There is a scene in your documentary where a parent says she went to the principal of the school to ask for help with the bullying and she didn't get any help. What can people do if this happens to them?

Parsekian: So many people in schools will say "It's not my problem," but it's everybody's problem. It's important to have something that's already in place at school that eliminates kids having to come forward. This means starting off the year with a conversation or an assembly. We pass out "kind cards" at our assemblies which are little pink cards people can use to write something nice about someone right there in the room. Then there are the apology cards we hand out, which gives people the right to apologize to the person they've hurt right there. We've seen hundreds of relationships transformed right on the spot. You literally see a girl walk across the room and hug the one she was fighting with. It's very powerful.

Weigel: If someone is reading this and thinking bullying isn't a problem in their child's world—what would you say to them?

Parsekian: There was not a single community we came across that didn't have a bullying problem. This needs to be part of the curriculum. Parents would be surprised to hear how much this goes on with kids who are as young as 8 years old. I recently went back to my own grade school and told the story of what happened to me when I was bullied and my 7th grade teacher was sitting in the room and she had tears in her eyes. She had no idea what I was going through and that this was happening on campus. We hear that over and over again. We have a kit on our website (kindcampaign.com) that schools can sign up for that supplies everything from sample questions to get the dialogue going, to the apology cards. People have to take this seriously before we have more tragedies on our hands.

Find trailers, screenings and more information about the documentary "Finding Kind" at findingkind.indieflix.com.

jweigel@tribune.com

Twitter: @jenweigel
CHICAGO

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