Planet Fitness is well known for a lot of things; its iconic yellow and purple color scheme, affordable pricing and the Judgment Free Zone commitment to making every member fee comfortable while working out. No drama, no showing off and no intimidation. Their message is clear: Fitness is for everybody.
Given their mission statement, their anti-bullying initiative seems like a natural fit. Nearly one in five kids feel bullied at some point, and it's a valid concern for about 80 percent of parents. We all want to feel our kids are safe, and most of us don't.
The consequences of bullying.
Bullying takes different forms. Bullying behaviors specifically targeting girls include making fun of, name calling, insulting, starting rumors and excluding them from activities. Boys experience a higher incidence of physical behaviors -- pushing, shoving, tripping or spitting.
Kids who are bullied, either online or in person, are more likely to:
- Use alcohol and drugs
- Skip school
- Experience in-person bullying
- Be unwilling to attend school -- 160,000 kids are absent from school per day for fear of being bullied
- Receive poor grades
- Have lower self-esteem
- Have more health problems
- Feel suicidal
As adults, bullying victims are far more prone to depression, anxiety, panic attacks and agoraphobia.
Suicide rates in the U.S. are up 24 percent. It is the second most common cause of death among people in the 15 to 24 age range. The relationship between bullying and suicidal thoughts is crystal clear.
The internet provides even more opportunity for bullies to strike at their victims, making the situation more dangerous and volatile. Cyberbullying can happen 24 hours a day,and it's next to impossible to remove a kid from the situation without destroying their very identity. Social media can be a lifesaver to a lonely child, but it can also leave vulnerable children open to devastating personal attacks where the source is difficult to track down. The 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey found that 15 percent of high school students are victims of cyberbullying.
In 2014, writer Francie Diep wrote a heartbreaking article in "The Atlantic." In the post, she describes the lasting effects of being cyberbullied in the 90s -- before social media made such things public and invited others to pile on and make a personal situation far worse. She talks about anguish, pain, and suicidal thoughts, and describes how contacting her tormentor to write the article still made her afraid and anxious after 13 years.
Bullying must stop. Being a kid is hard enough.
Tackling the problem.
“At Planet Fitness, being judgment free is core to what we stand for as a brand, and we have seen first-hand the great things that people can accomplish when they feel welcomed and accepted. Today, we are excited to expand this philosophy beyond our clubs and into our communities,” said Chris Rondeau, Chief Executive Officer of Planet Fitness. “By collaborating with Boys & Girls Clubs of America and STOMP Out Bullying, we will empower today’s teens to choose kindness and create a generation where everyone feels like they belong.”
In March, Planet Fitness teamed up with STOMP Out Bullying and Boys & Girls Club of America (BGCA), the nation’s leading youth development organization, to launch a new national philanthropic initiative, The Judgment Free Generation.
Together, their goals are to reduce and prevent bullying in all its forms, including sexting and other digital abuse. The initiative also addresses homophobia, racism and hatred through education programs in school and online.
By reducing bullying and teaching effective counter-measures, STOMP Out Bullying hopes to reduce school absenteeism and deter the rising tide of violence that plagues out school system. In addition, the campaign offers help for those in need and at risk of suicide.
Bullying cuts both ways.
The problem of bullying is far deeper than schoolyard antics. While most consideration extends only to the victim, in many ways, the bully is also a victim. People who do not learn to control their aggressive tendencies are 60 percent more likely to end up in jail or with a significant criminal history and at higher risk for substance abuse, depression, anxiety and hostility. They are more likely to have antisocial personality disorders, which, left untreated can have a detrimental effect on their lives and the lives of people around them.
Does education work?
In the 1970s, with a failing school system and growing immigration issues, Finland went all in on school reform, a program centered on providing everything children need to succeed -- free lunch, free health care, transportation, learning materials and counseling.
The result of programs such as equal opportunity schooling, equitable (not competitive) allocation of resources, and early intervention on behavioral issues put Finland at the top of global school performance metrics.
Even with a high level of academic success, Finnish schools were still dealing with higher levels of bullying than neighboring countries. After implementing KiVa anti-bullying program, researchers found a reduction of more than 50 percent of incidents -- both bullying others and being bullied at the primary school level, and a 6 percent reduction in being bullied and 40 percent reduction in bullying at the secondary school level.
The dramatic results in Finland show that education programs and widespread adoption are critical to anti-bullying initiatives.
How you can help.
The Boys & Girls Clubs of America provides a safe haven and activities for more than 4 million disadvantaged kids after school and in the summer. Make a donation here.
Stomp Out Bullying is dedicated to making the world a more inclusive and safer place for our kids. Get involved, learn, volunteer or donate here... and help make the world a better place.