Dr Asha Pemberton
Many adults are extremely focused on their own lives, and tend to forget to take a moment to think about the needs of others. Young people model their behaviour after the adults in their lives and will emulate what they do far beyond the things that they say. In many communities, parents now pay more attention to individual achievement and the pursuit of happiness, above all else.
If our society has become callous and cold, some of the blame lies with the values parents have elevated. Modern parents have become so focused on achievement that they fail to nurture kindness in their children and teenagers. Acts of kindness doing good for others, yield benefits both to those who receive the acts and to those who demonstrate them. It is valuable for everyone to celebrate the benefits of kindness, which is a core aspect of human nature.
Some parents subtly or inadvertently discourage kindness, seeing it as a source of weakness in a fiercely competitive world. If you encourage children to consider the needs and feelings of others, they learn reciprocity. When you do not treat others considerately, they may not be considerate toward you. This then explains why kindness appears to be in decline.
Parenting teens to be kind
These days, too many young people consider kindness as a chore rather than a choice. We can change that. Experiments show that when teens are given the choice to share instead of being forced to, they are roughly twice as likely to be generous later. When children are praised and recognised for helping, they are more likely to help again.
Take a breath before correcting your child
Empathise with your child, as empathy diffuses big emotions. Connect before you correct. Shame and punishment do not equal discipline; in fact, the secret sauce of parenting is to discipline ourselves before we discipline our children. Oftentimes, it is not the child that needs the break, it is the parents. By being mindful and taking more control of your emotions during discipline you are more likely to use kind and positive words to redirect your child’s behaviour, as opposed to meeting their actions with negativity and aggression.
Own your mistakes
We are human, and we all make errors. At times, parenting can be very messy. There is no such thing as a perfect parent, so when we shout or make mistakes we should apologise. Tell them what you would do differently and why. It models that you are willing to take responsibility for your mistakes, which is both kind and respectful, and it also inspires trust.
Talk about importance of kindness and character
Keep reinforcing that message by giving your teen compliments when they share with a sibling, help a friend, or express gratitude. Thank them and reinforce how much their positive behaviour made you happy or proud. The goal is to keep building a strength in kindness and gratitude.
Minimise negative social media
More than ever, we are bombarded with images that decrease empathy and increase fear in our teenagers and children. Images of violence, abuse, death and despair fills movies, social media and music videos. Our children are often unable to mentally separate these images from their reality, and it can lead to personality shifts of anger, sadness or aggression. To counter this, parents must be aware of their own consumption of negative media and that of their children. They must also actively ensure that exposing their children to content that is positive, uplifting and creative.
Teach your kids compassion and to look outward, not inward.
Compassion is always about a shift from the world of self-preoccupation into a more expansive place of fellowship with others. Studies show that the more we connect to others the happier we are. So we need to make sure we are spending more time looking out, rather than looking at ourselves and likewise teach our children and teens to do similarly. Model kindness in everyday life by being polite to strangers, patient with busy cashiers or helpful to the elderly around you. It is the simple and sustained random acts of kindness that feed into a kinder family, community and nation at large.