Battling Bullying with Empathy: How One Teenager is Bringing Positivity to Middle School Students

February 13, 2017

Interview with Matthew Kaplan: 5 Minutes with a Teen Difference Maker Interview Series

Teenager Matthew Kaplan’s observation, and action he took on it, has made a positive impact on the lives of thousands. After becoming aware of hurtful words and bullying aimed at his younger brother, Kaplan began his mission to stop bullying by spreading empathy among middle school students through the Be One Project.

“The Be One Project is a community building and anti-bullying program. We actually work specifically with middle school students. It (the project) tries to create empathy and respect to create a safe environment for everyone to go to school,” explained Kaplan.

Matthew Kaplan from the BeOne Project

The interview with Matthew Kaplan is the first interview in the 10-part “5 minutes with a Teen Difference Maker” Interview Series. The series is hosted by After School in partnership with nonprofit organization Peace First and includes teens across the country who have made a difference in a wide variety of ways, from anti-bullying to raising awareness for the homeless.

Before officially launching The Be One Project, Kaplan had to understand more about the problem and where the opportunity to make the largest impact was. “My first task was really to identify the issues middle schoolers were facing. I recognized that a lot of programs (promoting positivity and anti-bullying) focused on high school. I believe by high school it is already too late, so I talked to parents, teachers and administrators to create my solution.” Kaplan then worked to develop the Be One Project and the ONE DAY program. The ONE DAY program as an “interactive three-hour program for middle school students (grades 5-8) designed to harness the power of Positive Peer Pressure to create inclusive and welcoming school environments free from physical, verbal, and cyberbullying.”

The Be One Project Logo Anti Bullying

Positive peer pressure, as defined on Be One’s website, is peer pressure which focuses on inclusiveness, support, and kindness. Kaplan believes that a positive shift can begin with mindfulness about what is being posted and how it can be perceived, “I often challenge kids to think really critically about what they say and post online, think whether they would say this thing to a person’s face and whether they would want that said about them,” said Kaplan.

Another important aspect of achieving a breakthrough in a young person’s life is having an “Ah-Ha moment” in Kaplan’s opinion, which he describes as a moment when a young person realizes how something they said could be misinterpreted or come off as bullying. “That ah-ha moment is really critical. That the thing they posted actually hurt someone on the other side. I don’t think that people intentionally try to tear each other down…we want to do well and be better. I think by having that ah-ha moment, it will really help someone reconsider and think about whether that’s the person they want to be,” said Kaplan.

Guiding a young person to be mindful of how they post and what it means to be a bully starts young. Kaplan’s project focuses on training middle schoolers on concepts like empathy and respect, and mirrors Kaplan’s opinion on the power of young people to make positive change. “We’re ready because we’re the best poised to make a difference. The problems the world is facing we are exposed to and experience every day. Who better understands the way that bullying manifests itself in schools than students that are in school? We are ready and we have to be ready.”

Kaplan saw his unique opportunity to have a positive impact on the world and was ready to act on it. He feels his success was greatly supported by Peace First. “The Peace First challenge really shines a spotlight on young people who might not be confident in their ideas or see themselves as changemakers. It encourages folks to really look at themselves in the mirror and say, ‘I am ready.’”

Peace First Challenge

You can follow his organization on Twitter @TheBeONEProject or visit To learn more about the Peace First Challenge, and to get involved today, visit and scroll over the Challenge heading to get started.

Learn more about the After School 5 minutes with a Teen Difference Maker Interview Series here, and listen to the full interview with Matthew Kaplan below.

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