How do you raise kind teenagers in today’s world where our news channels are filled with grown adults spewing hatred? The events of the past couple of years sure have changed what our children see and hear, making shaping the lives of parents and role models that much more complex.
Teenagers and kindness don’t always go hand-in-hand. If you’ve ever been a teenager, or tried to raise one, you know that teens can be a little…. well, moody. Yet in a time where we hear too often about scandals and bullies, it is refreshing that raising socially responsible kids is still at the forefront of many parents’ minds.
Not to mention that raising kind teenagers who have empathy towards others is even harder with social media, where a kid can’t even pick up his or her phone without seeing hatred spewed from classmates. Bullying, threats, and clearly immature yet truly mean statements have become the norm in many teenage social circles. Sure, there have always been mean girls, though their behavior has become even more escalated in the social media landscape.
Yet as parents (along with teachers and role models), we still have the ability to empower the next generation by giving them the desire to be kind, socially responsible and have the desire to make an impact.
The other night my family was leaving an event, and there was a homeless man sitting on the street with a sign asking for help. As it happened, we were leaving with extra food in hand. Food that we ended up giving to the gentleman. And yes, we did something, which is more than most of the other people walking by. Kindness comes in so many different forms, and as the saying goes, no one ever became poor from giving. Yet we all still walked away feeling such sadness for his situation. In truth, I would have been deeply disappointed if my kids felt nothing.
How to Raise Kind Teenagers in an Often Unkind World
Over the past couple of weeks I researched the subject of raising kind teenagers, looking at scientific evidence as well as professional opinion. If you too are eager to raise kind teenagers, here are some tips from the pros:
Lead by example.
Kindness is contagious. When your kids witness your continued involvement in acts of kindness, it becomes a way of life. When they grow up understanding that there are too many people in this world who could use a little kindness, they’ll learn just how far a random act of kindness can go. Likewise, it’s important to point out the immature behavior that often leads to the “mean girls” syndrome, so your teen (regardless of gender) won’t act in the same manner.
Find what resonates.
Some kids are naturally more empathetic than others. Figuring out which pain points resonate most with your children may lead them down a kinder road. For example, my son had a serious illness for many years and stories of sick children tend to resonate with him. By the same token, he has developed tremendous respect for kids who overcome adversity, because he has been there himself.
Make it fun!
Every year our school district has a different charitable cause. In my teenage son’s school, the kids broke into small groups who are working together on a project to benefit that cause. The groups are all coming up with their own ideas and pursuing them as a group from concept to fruition. They are working together, appreciating each other’s ideas, learning about helping others, and having a great time doing it! From a simple smile to a big group project, kindness does not have to be thought of as a chore.
Make it a family affair.
Bring the kids when you volunteer, when you donate to the food bank, or when you choose toys for kids at the hospital. Get your teens involved in some way. Last year my crew spent a few hours outside in the cold, ringing the red kettle for the Salvation Army, and it was amazing.
Make it personal.
How do you show teens to think outside of themselves and ease the teenage tendency to be egocentric? You can help raise kind teenagers by making it personal to them. You let them feel that feeling one gets deep down inside from doing for others with no expectation of return. Even though it’s great to participate as a family, or for them to learn from you, they need to truly understand that feeling which can only come from within.
Use each day as a teachable moment.
What lessons do you teach your children when you are the person on the receiving end of others’ kindness? Did anyone care for you, your family, or your children in a time of need? Can you point out those acts of kindness to your teens? Did you see an act of kindness that you can tell your kids about? Did you miss a chance to do an act of kindness? Look for all of those teachable moments, and talk about them with your teen. Like we mentioned earlier, you never know what will resonate or spark an idea!
Fortunately, despite all the negativity in the news of late, raising kind teenagers is of utmost importance to today’s parents, and teachers too. There are so many ways to teach our children about social good and to show them how much paying it forward really matters.
What does raising kind teenagers mean to you as a parent? How are you focusing on teaching your kids to have empathy and to be kind to others?
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