How many of us have been there: busy mass transit situation, your legs are killing you after a long day’s work. No available seats, so you stand, exhausted though you are. Through it all, blissfully oblivious, several teens sit comfortably in their seats, earbuds plugged in, heads bobbing. All while your calves and toes scream for mercy.
What does compassion have to do with having an easier time as a teenager? What can parents do to encourage and teach to our children to be more compassionate when there are so many other distractions and role models distracting them from learning these lessons?
According to James G. Wellborn, a clinical psychologist with 18 years of experience working with parents and teens. “The teenage years are unlike any other in a person’s life – it’s a unique in-between period from childhood to adulthood, and it’s helpful to remember that problems during this time are actually normal,” says Wellborn, author of the new book “Raising Teens in the 21st Century: A Practical Guide to Effective Parenting.” “But teens still require guidance, encouragement and good ideas to see them through to adulthood.”
According to Dr. Wellborn, “A universally admired trait, spanning all cultures, religion and philosophy, is compassion. A truly compassionate teen will inevitably have a host of other positive qualities, including patience, understanding, sensitivity, tolerance, intuition and more.”
Dr. Wellborn suggests a number of ways that parents (and grandparents) can instill compassion in our children regardless of their age:
- Model it: Compassion is largely learned, so be aware of how you act around your children. How did you respond to the request for money from that panhandler on the street? What comment did you make behind his back, in the presence of your kid? What did you say about that idiot driver who just cut you off in traffic? Your children are watching, listening and modeling your behavior.
- Notice it: Point out examples of compassion that occur around you. It comes in many forms. Often, if we take the time to look, we can find those people who quietly, and without recognition, helping others in need, including volunteers of all types. Making a game of identifying instances of compassionate deeds you’ve witnessed may be one way to encourage your child to notice and understand acts of compassion.
- Teach it: As parents, we teach compassion not only through our words but also our actions (See modeling). Regardless of the child’s age, it’s important to teach children how to be empathetic and work on seeing things from another person’s perspective. Otherwise it is difficult for them to appreciate what another person is going through. Remember what your grandparents, teachers or camp counselors told you: “You can’t know how someone else is feeling until you walk a mile in his shoes!” Perhaps it’s time to pass along that saying?
- Anticipate it: Character can be fostered by projecting moral strength into their future. In this way, you will be subtly shaping the adult they are working to become. It’s never too early to remind your child that the lessons he or she is learning at an early age will help them be a self-assured and respected teenager, and later, as an adult.
- Guilt it: A personal value system serves as a means of accountability to oneself (your family and community). This begins with the value system parents promote in their kids. Even when we wish we could avoid these conversations, when a child makes a bad decision or doesn’t react with compassion or empathy, as parents, we need to discuss why these actions are not acceptable and offer alternatives that mirror the family’s values. According to Dr. Wellborn, “If they fulfill the promise of personal values it is a source of justifiable pride.” Violating personal values should result in guilt for not doing what’s right and shame for letting other people down. Parents need to help their kids along with this.
- Repeat it: Like any lesson, learning often comes with repetition. Once is not enough when it comes to character. Find every opportunity to work it into the conversation. Using all of the strategies mentioned above, you will be able to work character issues into every possible situation in a remarkably diverse number of ways. Okay, so it may drive your kids crazy, but according to Dr. Wellborn, “mentioning character often – at least once every couple of days – and in many different forms will help ensure that these characteristics become values and traits they can carry into adulthood.”
Dr. Wellborn’s book couldn’t have come at a better time in our family. As a perceptive 4th grader, my child is acutely aware of what “the popular” kids are doing and she struggles with whether or not to emulate their behavior (good or bad.) Often after school, I am regaled with stories from the playground. Using some of Dr. Wellborn’s suggestions, I try to capitalize on opportunities to turn these stories into lessons about being compassionate and showing empathy when someone is left out of a game or has had a bad argument with another friend. Hopefully she will learn that, regardless of what others are doing (or not doing), she is strong and self-assured enough to do the right thing.
Disclosure: I received a copy of Dr. James Wellborn’s book, Raising Teens in the 21st Century: A Practical Guide to Effective Parenting. All thoughts and opinions are 100% my own.
If you have pre-teens or teenagers, you are probably facing the issues that come along with cell phones. Texting may be at the top of the list! Life isn’t as simple as it used to be when we were children…there are new tools of communication that have become the new lifelines, but, unfortunately, along with these gadgets come issues. Setting boundaries with your kids about texting is important as a parent.
Common issues with texting
These “issues” range all the way from inappropriate texting and “sexting” (including sending photos that you would be ashamed of), to driving while texting and people endangering not only themselves, but also the other people in their car and on the road.
Before You Give Your Kid a Cell Phone
Be sure to go over your rules and regulations for cell phone usage. Most schools do not allow texting during class, so that might be one of the topics that you discuss with your pre-teen or teenager. Each parent will, of course, have their own rules about texting, however it is best that you lay all of the rules out on the table and explain what the consequences will be if they step out of line.
Anna Post, of the Emily Post Institute recently spoke to UrbanMommies about manners and technology. Gadgets can be entertaining and convenient, but every family should develop rules about the use of technology (for parents too..). You will want to decide if these devices are allowed at the dinner table and if there is a time in the evening when they are turned off. In addition to a downloadable ‘tip sheet’, the Top Ten Cell Phone Manners guide developed by the Emily Post Institute is very helpful. Our favs?
- Be courteous to those you are with; turn off your phone if it will be interrupting a conversation or activity.
- Don’t make calls in a library, theater, church or from your table in a restaurant.
- Don’t text during class or a meeting at your job.
- Private info can be forwarded, so don’t text it.
Taking the cell phone away might be counterproductive to the idea of giving your child a cell phone. Ultimately, the reason to give them a cell phone is to make it easy for you to contact them or them to contact you when necessary, so threatening to take it away when the rules are broken is a moot point.
Think about other things that you could take away, like their computer or game consoles or go back to the old-fashioned, “You’re grounded!”. You may view texting in class less of a “crime” than texting while driving, so you can set up specific consequences for particular offenses or just one consequence for any time they are caught breaking the rules. Either way, if you lay out the rules and consequences prior to handing over the cell phone, you will know that you have at least made yourself clear.
Spy Tools – Be Your Own Detective
Okay, maybe it doesn’t sound very appealing at first, but when you think about how much you want to protect your kids and keep them safe when they are not with you in this scary and unpredictable world, the new “spy tools” that are popping out on the market can easily help you track your kid’s texting behaviors.
Putting a Stop to Texting While Driving
Some auto insurance companies have offered the option to parents who have driving-aged teenagers to install a camera in the car. This camera does not stop the teenager from texting while driving, but it will ensure that the parent will find out about it. There is also software that detects that a cell phone is in a moving vehicle and prevents texting abilities.
As awareness spreads about the dangers of driving while texting, more companies are coming up with software, plug-ins, a special bluetooth installed in the car keys that disable cell phone emissions, and many other ideas to keep people from texting and driving.
It is vital to understand that times have changed since we were teens and to keep the communication open with your kids about texting. Whether you decide to spy on your kids or give them the benefit of the doubt, you will definitely want to have the discussion about texting and all of the issues that arise with it in order to ensure that they understand that you are “in the loop” and that there will be consequences if they misuse the trust that you are giving to them when you hand them the cell phone.