Just Being Nice vs Doing the Right Thing

Guest post by Annie Fox, M.Ed.

teachingKidsHiResCoverI’ve answered teen email since 1997 and I’ve been getting an amazing education. It’s also an honor to be invited daily into the emotional lives of young people. Frequently adults want to know what kinds of questions I’m asked. Most of it probably wouldn’t surprise anyone who has been a teen. I hear the typical questions about love (“How do I get my crush to notice me?”), complaints about parents (“Why won’t they don’t let me do anything?!”), and confusion about peer conflicts (“Lately my friends have been leaving me out. I don’t know why. What should I do?”)

Individual adolescents aren’t any more “alike” than a random sampling of 40 year olds. That said, 12-14 year olds are moving through the same developmental stages and seem to share a degree of ego-centrism, aka “It’s all about me.” This is totally understandable. Because of all the physical, emotional, and relational changes they’re experiencing, young teens are rarely on steady ground. They are probably at their most self-conscious phase of life and they obsess about their social status. Which is why it can be a real challenge for them to see past their persistent self-involvement and have empathy for someone else.

But occasionally I get an email from a teen that reflects compassion for a peer. Like this one from the other day:

This girl in my English class doesn’t have many friends. She eats lunch with people but nobody really talks to her. She is just a little odd and in class she sometimes shouts out and says completely irrelevant things. Most people just roll their eyes at her or laugh. Then she just kinda of looks down, sad. I can’t tell those people to stop laughing in the middle of class because I’d get in trouble for talking. But I want to do something about it because I don’t like just letting these things pass by every day when that girl could really be hurting inside. What should I do? Please help.


I wrote right back and suggested she sit with the girl at lunch the next day.

 Anti-Bully: I would, but I don’t think she knows who I am. And I also don’t know where she sits at lunch.

Annie: Anti-Bully, we can always come up with excuses for not doing the right thing. Look, I understand your hesitation. Reaching out to someone who needs a friend can be risky. It takes social courage because you just don’t know how the eye-rollers will react. But I know you have what it takes. Otherwise you wouldn’t have written this compassionate email in which you said, “I want to do something about it because… that girl could really be hurting inside.” So… tomorrow at lunch, look for her. Find her. Then go over and ask if you can sit with her.

 You have a good heart, Anti-Bully. But it’s not enough to be a nice person. You have to do good in the world. You know what I mean?

In friendship,


A few days later I emailed Anti-Bully to find out how things went. Here’s her reply:

Anti-Bully: I was looking for her at lunch the other day and saw her sitting with some new people! I was so happy that I went up to her and said hi. She looked up at me and a huge smile came across her face! I was so blessed and happy that I could make her smile! Thank you for your advice!

Score one for the good guys! It doesn’t always work that way, but this time it did.

We parent-educators are gardeners. We plant seeds and offer nurturing lessons that kids can internalize. But we are not our children’s only influencers. By rededicating ourselves to teaching our kids to be good people, we provide them with the tools to do the right thing while we’re right there beside them and when they’re on their own. Whether they actually do it, is their choice. But at least we’ll know we’ve done our part well.

Gate photo P1100975_2ANNIE FOX, M.Ed. is an internationally respected character educator and the author of award winning books and apps for t(w)eens and kids. Her latest book for adults: Teaching Kids to Be Good People is now available on Kindle and in print. Contact Annie at AnnieFox.com

Annie will send free ebook copies to the first three comments.


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12 Responses to Just Being Nice vs Doing the Right Thing

  1. Pingback: Teaching Kids to Be Good People Blog Tour | Annie Fox's Blog

  2. sjhigbee says:

    Thank you for a fascinating article. I recall my young son coming home in tears, aged 7. A boy in his class who had been a street child in Hong Kong, adopted and brought to England, was being bullied by a bunch of children in his class, to the extent that they all threw away the Christmas cards he’d brought in for them.
    ‘Please, tell his Mum,’ begged my son. ‘We’ve got to do something.’
    So I did. The teacher and Headteacher intervened and the situation was sorted out.
    I’ve always felt proud that Robbie wasn’t prepared to let the bullying drag on.

  3. Beth Eilers says:

    Annie Fox, tween whisperer! I always look forward to reading your posts, which help me connect to my students and my own kids. Thank you for your genius!

  4. Annie Fox says:

    sjhhigbee, thank you for sharing the story of Robbie’s courage. I’m sitting here, my heart full, smiling, as I picture how he was moved to talk to you and how you showed him, by taking his concerns seriously, that he had done the right thing and that you would too! I’m also smiling at how your intervention eased the suffering of that little boy from Hong Kong. Undoubtedly, all the kids in that class learned such an important lesson about courage and inclusion. Win-win!

  5. Annie Fox says:

    Hi Beth Eilers, Thank you for your interest in my work! Nothing pleases me more than knowing that something I have written is helping teachers, students and parents become more of who we really are… people who have what it takes to do the right thing!

  6. Nikky B says:

    I love this post. I’m going to share it with my students tomorrow. It’s one thing to be nice and protect your teen self rather than take a risk and do the right thing.

  7. Annie Fox says:

    Hi Nikky B, I’m pleased that this post resonated with you. Perhaps you’d be willing to post an update here after you’ve shared it with your students. I’d be interested in hearing how your class discussion went!

  8. I enjoyed reading this post. I think the answer to finding hurting kids who may end up taking tragic actions is how to have our younger children growing up with Annie’s coaching: trust your heart and do what you need to do despite the fact that our school environments generally discourage open and honest spontaneous communication between students (“get in trouble for talking”).

  9. Rick says:

    S.J. Higbee, Beth Eilers, Nicky B.
    You are the winners of a Free eBook: “Teaching Kids to Be Good People.”
    Please send Annie Fox your contact information.

  10. Annie Fox says:

    Congratulations to Sarah, Beth and Nikky. Yay!
    I’ve sent you all DMs and hope to hear from you soon with your contact info so I can send you the eBook version of Teaching Kids to Be Good People.

    In friendship,

  11. Annie Fox says:

    Hi Marty, Thank you for taking the time to read my article and commenting. Thank you also for the good work you do at Parenting for Partnership. We are obviously on the same team. fyi here’s the first chapter of Teaching Kids to Be Good People > http://www.anniefox.com/books/tk_excerpt.html Enjoy!

    In friendship,

  12. whoah this blog is fantastic i love studying your articles.

    Stay up the great work! You already know, a lot
    of persons are hunting round for this information, you could aid them greatly.

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