Kindness is about more than simply being nice, polite, or friendly, although those things contribute to the overall power of kindness.
Kindness is about treating those around you with genuine care, compassion, concern, and acceptance. Sometimes kindness is mistakenly associated with naivety or weakness, which can cause some people – including image-conscious teenagers, to try to avoid being labeled as kind.
But kindness isn’t a weakness.
In fact, demonstrating kindness can sometimes require real bravery and strength of character.
Kindness is a valuable interpersonal skill with many benefits. It’s not just the recipients of kindness who benefit, people who practice kindness also experience many advantages.
Performing acts of kindness produces a rush of endorphins which is known as a “helper’s high”, creating a sense of pride, belonging, and well-being. The person performing kindnesses feels more energetic, healthier, and connected to their community.
People who practice kindness also tend to experience less depression, more academic and professional success, and a happier outlook overall.
These effects of practicing kindness are more than enough reason to want to cultivate a sense of kindness in your own teenagers.
Take a look at some tips that will help you teach your teens about the power of kindness, and be sure to be practice on World Kindness Day this Wednesday, November 13th.
Teach by Example
Adults often believe that their teenage children or students just aren’t listening to them, but teens observe quite a bit, even when they don’t seem to be paying attention. And there’s just no substitute for learning from a good role model.
If you have teenagers in your life, one of the most effective ways to teach them about the power of kindness is to teach by example.
Let your teens catch you in the act of being kind as often as possible. This doesn’t always have to mean taking big actions – it’s great to donate to charity or volunteer your time if you can, but small kindnesses are important as well:
- Give someone the benefit of the doubt
- Smile at a stranger
- Share something with someone
- Offer to help a neighbor with a bulky package
- Hold a door open for the person behind you
- Give a sincere compliment without expecting anything in return, or
- Give a server a larger than normal tip, just because
All of these things add up, and when your teen sees their role models consistently practicing kindness, they’ll pick up the habit as well.
Create a Kindness Challenge
Challenge your teens to perform at least one act of kindness every day for a month.
Ask them to keep a diary or journal where they write down what they did and how it made them feel, along with any other information that they think is relevant. You can make it a family project and participate along with them.
Once a week or so during your challenge, make it a point to check in with your teens about how their challenge is going. Ask them to share their favorite acts of kindness, the most challenging acts of kindness they practiced, or any other interesting stories they have from that week.
At the end of the month, talk about how they felt about the project as a whole:
- What did they think about the challenge at the beginning of the month?
- How did that change (if it did change) by the end of the month?
- Will they maintain the habit of performing daily acts of kindness going forward?
- How will they do that?
You may be surprised by how much your teen can learn with just a few weeks of intentionally looking for opportunities to practice kindness and taking those opportunities.
And teenagers may very well surprise themselves both with their capacity for kindness and with how positively they’re affected by performing kind acts for others.
Empower Teens to Practice Kindness in Big Ways
It’s relatively easy to find opportunities to practice small, everyday acts of kindness, especially if you’re looking for them. But teens have big emotions and often big ideas, and a teen who has discovered the power of small acts of kindness might be looking for an opportunity to practice kindness on a grander scale.
For example, a teen who has volunteered at a homeless shelter might come away from the experience with a desire to end homelessness or hunger in their city. This is a good instinct!
Unfortunately, teens sometimes get discouraged when adults tell them that an idea is too big for them, or when they have a big idea but no idea how to implement it.
Instead of discouraging your teen, empower them to help find a way to do what they’re seeking to do.
A teen who is seeking to end homelessness may not be able to do so single-handedly. But they can brainstorm possible solutions, they can research what has worked in other areas, they can lobby their elected officials, they can crowdfund, and they rally others to the cause.
Your teen most likely has more energy and free time to put into a good cause at this time in their life than they ever will again, and they have youthful optimism on their side. What a teenager with a big idea needs from the adults in their lives is guidance, support, and empowerment, not discouragement.
The Power of Kindness in Action
Introduce your teen to examples of other young people who have accomplished big things in the spirit of kindness.
Great examples include Mari Copeny, who has been fundraising and raising awareness in an effort to bring clean water to her hometown of Flint for years, or the teen survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School shooting in Florida who turned their grief into political action to end gun violence.
At the heart of these and other activism efforts is kindness – a desire to help others and prevent or alleviate suffering – and that kindness is powerful enough to enable very young people to have a very big impact on the world around them.
You can help empower your teen to use their instinct for kindness in powerful ways as well.
Dr. Nalin is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, and Founder and Executive Director of Paradigm Treatment Centers, who has been a respected leader in the field of adolescent mental health for more than 20 years. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Southern California, his Master’s degree from Loyola Marymount University, his Doctoral degree from Pacific University’s APA approved Clinical Psychology program, and completed his training at the University of California, San Diego’s APA approved psychology internship program.
Dr. Nalin has provided training and mentoring to students entering the field of psychology at institutions of learning including Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology, UCSD, Pacific University, and Santa Monica College. He was also instrumental in the development of the treatment component of Los Angeles County’s first Juvenile Drug Court, which now serves as a national model.
Dr. Nalin has appeared as an expert on shows ranging from CBS News and Larry King, to CNN, The Today Show and MTV. He was also featured in an Anti-Drug Campaign for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).
Dr. Nalin is a Diplomate of the National Institute of Sports Professionals and a Certified Sports Psychologist as well as a Certified Chemical Dependency Intervention Specialist. He lectures and conducts workshops nationally on the issues of teen mental health, substance abuse prevention, and innovative adolescence treatment.
In 2017 Dr. Nalin was awarded The Sigmund Freud Foundation and Sigmund Freud University’s Distinguished Achievement Award in recognition of his work with youth in the field of mental health over the course of his career.