Oprah is tirelessly working to get people to pay attention to this life-changing issue.

Childhood bullying is an epidemic in this country. Around 28% of students experience it first hand, and nearly 70% witness it happen.

When we hear about it, we feel sympathy for the kids being bullied, as we should, but don't often give this care and consideration to the perpetrators. Instead, our gut reaction is to ask questions.

"Why did they do this?"


"What is wrong with them?"

"What did the parents do/not do?"

But if we hope to improve the mental health of our children, the adults they become, and the communities that raise them, we need to ask better questions. Journalist, philanthropist, and TV legend Oprah Winfrey wants to help people get there by examining the role of childhood trauma.

"This story is so important to me and I believe to our culture that if I could dance on the tabletops right now to get people to pay attention to it, I would," she said on "CBS This Morning."

Trauma is the emotional response to a distressing event, including but not limited to violence, sexual assault or abuse, a natural disaster, or an accident.

The heightened emotional response can occur immediately after the event, (think the shock or denial that may occur after getting mugged), but it can also continue months or years later. Survivors may have uncomfortable flashbacks, confusion, anxiety, or feel withdrawn. The symptoms can also be physical, with nightmares, racing heartbeats, muscle tension, and fatigue. Trauma can literally take over your body and mind, and its effects can be magnified in children.

Photo by Duane Prokop/Getty Images for Feeding America.

In a report for "60 Minutes" Oprah sat down with Dr. Bruce Perry, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist and expert on childhood trauma.

Perry revealed that adverse or distressing events in a child's early development, can increase their chances of social, mental, and physical problems later in life.

"That very same sensitivity that makes you able to learn language just like that, as a little infant, makes you highly vulnerable to chaos, threat, inconsistency, unpredictability, violence," Perry told Winfrey. "And so children are much more sensitive to developmental trauma than adults."

Bruce D. Perry, M.D. PhD. Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images.

Since trauma can stem not just from single events, but from living in stressful environments, children in these situations may be wired differently than those living in consistent, nurturing, predictable homes.

Perry says children living in chaos and unpredictability (think residing in areas with a lot of crime, growing up food insecure, or with parents who are struggling with addiction) are at much higher rates of risk for academic trouble and potential mental health problems.  

"If you have developmental trauma, the truth is you're going to be at risk for almost any kind of physical health, mental health, social health problem that you can think of," Perry said.

"If you don't fix the hole in the soul ... you're working at the wrong thing."

Trauma-informed care is one approach to tackling this issue.

Trauma-informed care means taking into account a person's trauma and the coping mechanisms they've been using when educating or treating someone. This might look like a school environment where open communication, empathy, and sensitivity to how other people are feeling are top priorities, not just to help children cope with trauma, but to create a culture of welcoming, tolerance, and acceptance to prevent further trauma. This would also mean teachers, administrators, and support staff would be trained in direct intervention methods to support traumatized students.

After learning about the effects of developmental trauma, Winfrey reached out to the board of her school in South Africa to change the way they're approaching education.

"It has definitively changed the way I see people in the world, and it has definitively changed the way I will now be operating my school in South Africa and going forward any philanthropic efforts that I'm engaged in," she said on "CBS This Morning."

Oprah Winfrey chats with students of the first graduating class at her South African girls' academy. Photo by Stephane De Sakutin/AFP/Getty Images.

If Winfrey seems especially passionate about this, it's because she experienced traumatic events as a child.

She's spoken at length about the sexual abuse she experienced at the hands of a relative when she was a child. And recently opened up about the spankings she received from her mother, which were common at the time, but no less distressing. Winfrey threw herself into school work and found a positive outlet, and supportive, trusted adults in her teachers. Without those role models and a positive outlet, her story may have gone a lot differently.

Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images.

To improve our schools and communities, it's worth rethinking the notion of "bad kids," or "bad parents."

Instead of asking "What is wrong with them?" take a step back and consider the role childhood trauma may have played in their upbringing. Asking, "What have they seen or experienced?," and "Who was there to help them through that experience?" may provide some insight. Trauma doesn't negate their misbehavior, but it may provide the empathy and understanding they desperately need to change their ways.

"If you don't fix the hole in the soul, the thing that is where the wounds started, you're working at the wrong thing."

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Increasingly customers are looking for more conscious shopping options. According to a Nielsen survey in 2018, nearly half (48%) of U.S. consumers say they would definitely or probably change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment.

But while many consumers are interested in spending their money on products that are more sustainable, few actually follow through. An article in the 2019 issue of Harvard Business Review revealed that 65% of consumers said they want to buy purpose-driven brands that advocate sustainability, but only about 26% actually do so. It's unclear where this intention gap comes from, but thankfully it's getting more convenient to shop sustainably from many of the retailers you already support.

Amazon recently introduced Climate Pledge Friendly, "a new program to help make it easy for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products." When you're browsing Amazon, a Climate Pledge Friendly label will appear on more than 45,000 products to signify they have one or more different sustainability certifications which "help preserve the natural world, reducing the carbon footprint of shipments to customers," according to the online retailer.

Amazon

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.