- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

“Simple,” “powerful” and “re-enforcing” of bedrock values.

These are hallmark characteristics of an Illinois company that believes teaching children at school — and at home — about virtues and morals is key to solving a host of social problems, including bullying and youth violence.

ThinkVirtues Inc. uses more than 50 “virtue” cards a year to build awareness in children about behaviors like courtesy, generosity, enthusiasm, courage and respect, co-founder and managing director Kathy Motlagh said Tuesday.

The goal is to empower a child “to know what good things can come from practicing virtues,” she said.

“This work is perfect” for violence prevention in children, ​added Ms. Motlagh, “as we really challenge the child to focus on good behavior” in realistic situations​.

The week of March 23-27 has been designated as National Youth Violence Prevention Week by ​the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention​ (CDC). The agency is holding a forum ​during the week ​on ​its ​VetoViolence Facebook page.

According to the federal Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey, about one in five high school students said they were bullied on school property in 2013.

Some 16 percent of teens said they had been “electronically bullied” — through emails, chat rooms, instant messages, websites or texting during the 12 months before the survey — in 2011. On a positive note, these kinds of cyberbullying decreased to just under 15 percent by 2013.

However, 7 percent of students said in 2013 they had stayed away from school at least once in the past 30 days because they felt unsafe on campus or traveling to or from school.

The CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control has found a number of effective programs for violence prevention: These include ones that strengthen healthy relationships between children and their friends, parents and caring adults; improve communities and local economies; and help children develop their communication, anger management and problem-solving skills.

ThinkVirtues fits well with some of these strategies because it “teaches good behavior, and does it in a positive setting, a simple setting,” said Ms. Motlagh, who started the Chicago-area company in 2011 with sister Sara Motlagh, a Montessori teacher. Sara Motlagh is director of education at ThinkVirtues, and a number of Montessori leaders are on the company’s advisory board.

Their program, which is secular but suitable for religious schools, is currently in five schools and taught to about 600 students in kindergarten to middle school.

Kathy Motlagh recounted how one ThinkVirtues student used the lessons he learned when he was verbally bullied by an older teen.

Not only did the teen get the bullying to stop, but when he went back to the older youth and asked him, ‘Why would you do this?’ the older youth admitted he needed to disengage from several friendships that “were not helping him to be a good person,” said Kathy Motlagh.

“Aristotle said it thousands of years ago: In order to create good character, we must habituate virtues,” she said. “And our program is a daily thing — we call it ‘a pinch of virtues a day’ — it takes 10 to 15 minutes, and builds a solid foundation for kids.”

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