How to Raise Kind and Caring Teens

Posted by Janet Heinsler on May 12, 2015

In order for communities to grow and prosper, there needs to be a majority of adults who are committed to their community and who will at times put the common good above their own. Our communities may soon be in trouble because many of today’s teens, the adults of tomorrow, place greater value on personal achievement and happiness rather than the good of the whole. In a study done by Harvard University, it was found that when teens were asked to rate what they valued most, choosing between happiness, achieving at a high level, and carrying for others, 80% of the teens chose either happiness or high achievement over helping others.  Teens reported that it happens because, although parents teach helping others, their actions don’t, and it was easier to do what their parents did, not what they said. How can we make sure we bring up king and caring teens?
As teens themselves reported, they learn more from your actions than your words. It will do no good to tell them to help others; you must reach out and help others if you want your child to learn to do that.  There are plenty of opportunities for you to reach out and help in your community and in the world in general. For example, the next time one of your neighbors is in the hospital or expecting a baby why not have your teens help you make dinner for them. Both of you can drop it off. The more you reach out to others, the more your child will see this as normal.
Just like teens learn to play a sport, play a musical instrument or to dance, teens need to practice caring. Help your teen work in a certain amount of caring into their schedule so it becomes routine with them. It can be helping someone in the family, neighborhood or helping the community. Have your teen help their younger brother of sister do homework, learn how to tie their shoes or learn how to ride a bike.  There are a lot of things teens can do to help their younger siblings.
It is usually fairly easy for your teen to help someone in the family or in the neighborhood, but what about outside the immediate family?  Do they help people at school or in the larger community?  Encourage you teen to reach out to the new kid at school; maybe show him where his locker is and introduce them to some other kids at school. Reaching out to people in the neighborhood will help the child expand their circle of concern. If you have elderly people in the neighborhood, maybe your teen could stop by periodically and mow the lawn, see if they need anything at the store or just spend some time with them.

One way to help your teen to make caring a priority is to make it a priority yourself and include them. Expect your teen to help out around the house. Have a list of chores for you teen to do and praise them when they do extra acts of kindness around the house.  Have discussions at the dinner table about uncaring and caring acts. If you have seen something during the day where it was an extremely caring act mention it to you children at the dinner table. For example, if you saw someone at the grocery store take the time to help someone to their car with their groceries, mention how impressed you were with this caring act. Do the same when you notice an uncaring act.  

It's important to teach your teen how to think ethically. Thinking ethically is not something you learn by osmosis but rather it is something you need to help them learn. Teens normally want to do good deeds but it's a challenge because they worry about what is the “popular” thing to do. At school your teen sees another teen getting picked on about the way they talk, or maybe they notice a new student and they want to go over but they are afraid what their peers will think. It is important that you discuss these things to show your teen how doing the right thing for these students might be a good thing no matter what their friends think.  Tell them that it's an opportunity to become a leader. Show them that standing up for these individuals gives them a chance to be a fighter against social injustice at school and in the community.