UBC Okanagan researcher delves into kindness psychology

Teens 'kinder than we think'

A UBC Okanagan researcher is hoping to switch up the apparent stereotype that teenagers are mean. 

School of Education researcher and associate professor John-Tyler Binfet says new research he's conducted shows adolescents don't deserve the negative reputation they often receive.

“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,” says Binfet.

“There is an emphasis on kindness throughout school curriculum, but little is known about how youth actually enact kindness.”

Binfet and his team surveyed 191 grade 9 students from Okanagan Valley to determine how they view themselves on the kindness scale, both online and in face-to-face interactions.

Students then planned and completed five acts of kindness for one week, completing 943 acts of kindness in total.

About 94 per cent of the participants completed three or more of their chosen acts of kindness, ranging from showing respect, complimenting or encouraging others and helping with chores.

“When encouraged to be kind, they surpassed expectations. It was interesting to see how adolescents support others with nuanced ways of helping that included helping generally, physically, emotionally and with household chores,” says Binfet.

“As educators and parents model kindness or provide examples of kindness, showcasing examples of subtle acts might make being kind easier for adolescents to accomplish.”

Binfet says the participants were re-interviewed one week later to see if any changes had occurred in their own perceptions, and findings showed a significant positive increase. 

“This has implications for school-based initiatives seeking to encourage kindness among students who may say, ‘but I’m already kind.' The findings suggest that by participating in a short kindness activity, students’ perceptions of themselves as kind may be boosted.

“I think adolescents can be misperceived, especially in schools. By understanding how they show kindness, parents, educators and researchers can gain insight as to how they actualize pro-social behaviour. We can find ways to best structure opportunities for youth to be kind to help foster their development.”

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