How to get teens to care about others

If I had to pick one attribute of kids that drives adults the most crazy, I think I would pick this one: adults see kids as myopic in that they are concerned with the bubble in which they live, with very little regard for others, including people living different lives. Think about what makes you angry as a parent. For me, it’s every time that my kids don’t clean up after themselves, when they assume that someone else will come along after them and do the dirty work for them. And believe me, they weren’t raised that way.

I’m sure you’ve felt the same way about your own pet peeves with your kids, your students, or just teens you encounter in life. They seem to be wrapped up in their own lives, their own problems and pressures, to the exclusion of other people, especially their family. I guess it’s true that we hurt the ones we love the most. Kids definitely solidify that notion.

So what can you do as a parent, role model, teacher or coach to help kids to recognize the needs of others and to respond appropriately?

1. I HIGHLY recommend getting kids involved in community service. Opportunities are endless and can be found through school, church, or direct contact with the organizations themselves. A huge part of my childhood centered on community service, and it played an enormous role in who I am today. Nothing shows kids that there is a whole world outside their bubble better than stepping directly into it and working to make a positive change.

2. If at all possible, travel, and not just to places that are comfortable. Exposing children to different cultures, various socioeconomic groups, people of color and people with entirely different priorities is key to awakening the sense that we are all small cogs in a much bigger machine. Suddenly we realize that our way isn’t the only way. We begin to think critically as we are exposed to other ways of living, and our fears of differences begin to weaken. With less ignorance comes less fear and greater understanding.

3. Stress family, always. This sounds antithetical to opening them up to the world, but it’s not. The family is their primary source of knowledge and connection. They must live within the family environment daily, and here they must put to practice what they have learned by studying the world. Teach children that they play a crucial role in the family dynamic and that if they shirk their responsibilities out of disregard for the other family members, it weakens the unit and hurts their relationships. Once they understand that all people are different, they can appreciate that same realization among their own family members. They may not give a flip about dirty dishes in the sink, but they understand that their mother does, so they clean up for her benefit, not for their own.

These steps can help to create people who think and love beyond themselves. I can’t imagine a better contribution we can make to our world.

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