I have been working in my profession as a clinical psychologist for 25+ years. It brings me both joy and humility on a daily basis. I am honored and sometimes overwhelmed by the places where those in my consulting room will go emotionally. The human condition is an amazing thing and I am privileged to be able to learn so much about it. I am deeply moved when clients tell me how they struggle to get along well with others and to earn the respect of so many people in their lives. I will tell you, though, what I have been most moved by lately. A 17 year old teenager came in last week and told me that since he has been kinder to his peers they seem to want to spend more time with him. That makes me happy. Let me tell you what pains me. Yesterday a 15 year old quiet and lovely young woman was told by her peers that her clothes were all wrong and that they no longer wanted to sit with her at lunch despite years of being friends. Our teens are talking about kindness here both its presence and its absence and that is very poignant and very important. When most of us think about teens kindness is usually not the first concept that occurs to us. Unfortunately, we head straight to thinking about impulsive and moody kids who are heavily influenced by their peers.
I suggest that we take a giant step back here. Kindness is as important to teens as it is to every other age group. And, in case you doubt that, consider the effects of bullying on our kids who are simply trying to grow up and find a grounded identity. I suggest that we remove our proverbial boxing gloves and focus instead on the tender feelings of our adolescents.
Our teens need to learn that kindness which is benevolent and compassionate behavior is an essential life skill. It is as important or perhaps more important than being a good student. Kindness will not only make your teens feel better about themselves but on a larger scale collective acts of kindness will make us a gentler culture and provide our kids with a safer environment.
Teach your teens that there are many ways to be kind and that if they pay attention to those around them they will find many opportunities to practice kindness. Consider talking to them about the following acts of kindness. This is, of course, not an exhaustive list.
1. Suggest that they use their smile more frequently. If someone appears lonely or eager to connect your teen just might make his/her day by smiling. The smile is a very powerful tool.
2. Teach them to make it a habit to compliment at least one person once per day. This should be an honest compliment. And, while they are at it they might also want to consider complimenting themselves. This leads to the development of self-compassion which so many of our kids lack.
3. Model listening to your teens and then reinforce the importance of listening to others. Listening well is a rare skill but an incredibly appreciated act of kindness. After all, who doesn't want an opportunity to be listened to?
4. Be friendly. This is a wonderful way to make someone's day. There are lots of lonely people out there and your child might just make a new friend.
5.Encourage generosity of spirit and inclusiveness and discourage exclusivity and withholding behavior.
Please send me more ideas. Kindness is after all quite powerful.