By Jackie Ward

SAN MATEO (KPIX) – At Lead Elementary School in San Mateo, Principal Chad Slife likes to say he helps kids become human.

“Because for a long time, it’s just developmentally, they’re only focused on themselves,” Slife said.

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He believes he’s teaching them to be empathetic.

“And that’s why I love elementary, because I get to watch little ones – it’s all me, me, me, me, me. And in 5th grade, it’s like, ‘Mr. Slife, how are you?'” he said.

According to StopBullying.gov, 20% of students ages 12-18 say they experienced some form of bullying, 30% admitted they bullied someone and 70% say they’ve seen bullying in their schools.

Slife believes that feeling of empathy and understanding what that means is key to preventing bullying.

“I participate in social media,” he told KPIX 5. “But at the same time, it’s made education very, very hard.”

Slife explains the difference between what he calls “in your face bullying” versus “behind the back bullying”.

“In your face is, you know who is doing it to you,” he said. “I might be calling your name out, or I wrote you a really mean note, but you know it’s from me. That’s in your face bullying.”

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“Behind the back is you don’t know who I am,” Slife continued. “I’m sending you mean notes with no name. I’m messaging you from a made-up account.”

Or, he says, you may even know the person, but they’re more off to the side and hiding behind a screen.

“A first grader showed me his Instagram account and he was also a kiddo that was having a lot of problems at school,” Slife told KPIX 5. “A lot of social challenges.”

Social media platforms like Instagram are helping cultivate empathy as well. It released a feature that asks users, “Are you sure you want to post this?” when they type something that could be considered rude or mean.

Instagram says: “In early tests of this feature, we have found that it encourages some people to undo their comment and share something less hurtful once they have had a chance to reflect.”

For people like Principal Slife, maybe it will make his job a little easier.

“And you’re like, ok, you’re starting to notice other people in this world have feelings, have thoughts, are something outside of just a person,” he said.

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Slife believes that talking to your kids and early intervention are the most important things to prevent bullying. He says when kids are 10 or 11 years old, some bad or mean habits have already developed, then you have to re-teach what it means to care about someone or how to make friends.