The media often tells us about the challenge of teens. We hear about their fluctuating moods, out-of-control hormones, and risky behaviors. We raise concerns about the prevalence ratings of teen sexual activity, drug use, or bullying. But maybe these stories sell our teens short. Maybe there is much more to our teens than the media would suggest. In fact, research published in the Canadian Journal of School Psychology asked 191 ninth grade students to engage in five acts of kindness in a week. In response, the students completed 943 acts of kindness during that week! 94% of the teens reported completing 3 or more kind acts of kindness in response to that challenge. Not surprisingly, after completing one week of kind acts, the students showed an increase in their perception of their own kindness. Binfet, the author of this study, noted that “when encouraged to be kind, the teens surpassed expectations.”
This reminded me of a concept Tony Campolo espoused many years ago in his book Ideas for Social Action. He believed that young people are attracted to challenge more than entertainment, meaningful action rather than “pie in the sky when you die” promises. In this study, Binfet challenged students to kindness and their response “surpassed expectations.”
What does all this mean for parents and families? Perhaps, rather than focus on the challenge of teens, we need to offer our teens a challenge, a challenge to kindness, a challenge to reach out to the others in love, a challenge to live a life of service, sacrifice, and meaning. In response to the study above, Binfet suggested that our teens would benefit from parents and educators finding “ways to best structure opportunities for youth to be kind to help foster their development.” I believe this challenge begins at home. How can we, as parents, provide opportunities for our children and teens to show kindness to others? When we do, I believe we will be pleasantly surprised as our teens “surpass our expectations.” So, rather than bemoan the challenge of teens, lets challenge our teens and our selves to engage in acts of kindness.
Here is an experiment you can try this month. It is a challenge for the whole family, including your teens. Challenge every member of your family, including the teens, to engage in 5 acts of kindness every week for a month. Note the acts of kindness can be done within the family or outside the home toward friends, acquaintances, or even strangers. At the end of each week, talk about the kindnesses each one has shared and how those acts of kindness impacted you as an individual and the world around you.