Guest post by Annie Fox, M.Ed.
I’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?
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.
ANNIE 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.