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Fighting bullies by 'Finding Kind'

By Jessica Moskowitz, CNN
October 22, 2012 -- Updated 1833 GMT (0233 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • October is Bullying Awareness Month
  • Molly Thompson and Lauren Parsekian started a nonprofit to address girl-on-girl bullying
  • Their personal experiences with bullying inspired the Kind Campaign
  • The Kind Campaign is on its fourth nationwide school tour

(CNN) -- Lauren Parsekian and Molly Thompson are two young filmmakers who met at Pepperdine University in California in 2005. A bystander could easily look at their naturally pretty faces and fit bodies and assume: "These are the popular girls. Surely they've never been insulted or ignored, certainly never had to deal with being bullied." They'd be wrong.

"The two of us have really personal experiences with what we call girl-against-girl crime," says Parsekian, who co-founded the nonprofit organization Kind Campaign with Thompson in 2009 to try to stop this pattern of harassment.

As she elaborates on a past where middle school became torture, filled with flying rumors and drama that led to an eating disorder and a seventh-grade suicide attempt, the cliche "never judge a book by its cover" comes to mind.

For Thompson, her experience with the brutality of "girl world" came in her junior year of high school when a former friend started spreading rumors about her.

Lauren Parsekian and Molly Thompson
Lauren Parsekian and Molly Thompson

"I feel so lucky to be able to travel all over the country and talk to girls and boys about some of these really dark times that we find ourselves in," says Thompson. "Letting them know that there is hope and that together we can change."

That spirit of transformation through kindness is the driving force behind their nonprofit and the documentary "Finding Kind," which the two produced in 2009. In the film, the two friends drive across the country interviewing hundreds of women and discuss how females treat one another.

"The message that we're trying to get across is to not only have a really honest dialogue about the really damaging effects of broken relationships between females, but really figuring out why it is that girls are so competitive and hard on one another rather than seeing each other as allies," says Parsekian.

As representatives of Kind Campaign, both have dedicated the past four years of their lives to addressing this aspect of bullying. Through their movie, they begin to facilitate honest conversation between girls and women of all ages. They follow that presentation with two interactive features: the kind pledge and kind apologies.

A pledge requires students to declare an action step they can take toward being kinder to their peers.

Both women say, though, it's the kind apology where progress lies. In this exercise, girls ask for forgiveness from those they've hurt for the things they've said or done.

Thompson saw firsthand how much a sincere apology can mend relationships. "The very last day of school the girl who started the rumors and turned all my friends against me had the courage to apologize to me for what she had done. And I think her apology really helped me to be able to take that in and forgive her and move on," she says.

As October is Bullying Awareness Month, the women recently left for their fourth nationwide tour of schools. They say it will be their last journey. They are currently in production on a "Kind Kit" which will include a recorded version of their school assembly program, the film "Finding Kind," and a yearlong curriculum they say is endorsed by self-esteem expert and author Jessica Weiner (who also appears in the documentary).

Parsekian says this packaged material will reach hundreds more schools than the pair could by traveling to one school at a time. Reflecting on her personal journey through this issue of girl-on-girl bullying, the filmmaker highlights the message of "Kind Campaign":

"We're not standing here pointing the finger and saying, 'You're a mean girl and this is what you're doing wrong,' because at the end of the day, every person has been on both sides of this, and we've all thought things or done things that we shouldn't have that have hurt other people in our lives. It's really about pointing the finger at ourselves and realizing that we're all a part of this issue, and it's us who can really create the change."

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