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Pink shirts in Canada: Ultimate social norms model

Today (Feb. 23) is Pink Shirt Day in Canada, marking a national movement and international model for defeating bullying – all started by two good guys in Nova Scotia, Travis Price and David Shepherd. You’ve probably heard the story by now, but – when, back in 2007, the then high school seniors noticed a freshman boy was being picked on for wearing a pink shirt – they figured “that’s enough … gotta help the kid out,” Shepherd told NBC News. So they went out and bought a whole bunch of pink shirts and started wearing them. Soon hundreds of students at Central Kings Rural High School were wearing pink, according to NBC, then – if it wasn’t already viral – the idea spread to 60+ schools in Nova Scotia and soon went national. Even early on, though, once the story was online, Price and Shepherd were getting emails from as far away as Germany, Spain, and Taiwan. It’s amazing to see so clearly the powerful ripple effect of two regular, kindhearted young people taking positive action against something they see as wrong. In a matter of hours (probably less), they went from being bystanders to “upstanders,” as bullying prevention experts would call them.

But it’s important to link that exemplary behavior to the part about their being regular guys. The message is, it’s normal to be good to one another – the vast majority of kids don’t bully; in fact, they take care of each other. Those are the facts. And making that clear is the social norms approach to improving public health and well-being. The message isn’t powerful because of emotional appeal so much as because it’s just true – research-based. See this study of 19 schools in New Jersey by Profs. David Craig and Wesley Perkins at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. If you don’t have time to read all the slides in this presentation, just look at the 17th one (sorry, no page numbers) for an at-a-glance view of the “Impact of Social Norms Intervention at Five New Jersey Schools.” Before that slide are sample posters schools use to reinforce what I suggest should be a whole-school-community approach to establishing the culture of respect that defeats bullying and other social problems at school.

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