No, how are YOU? (teaching our teens the importance of others)

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It’s no secret that we’re a self-obsessed society.  (is it?)

I mean, I’m no PH.D. but I can see it simply in the fact that selfie is now a legitimate word in the dictionary.  And we have props like selfie sticks.  Y’know, so we can take more SELFies.

I don’t think any of us are immune to it, this wanting to self-promote, and it doesn’t have to be a horrible trait.  It’s good to teach our kids to put their best effort into things, to be pleased when hard work pays off, to use our natural abilities and talents for good, but to what end?

In our home, we’re striving to teach our kids that these are all good things but not simply for the reason of self-glorification.  Not simply so you can puff your chest out and feel superior, but because God has created you to be exactly who you are, with all of your strengths and weaknesses and that we are to do all things for His glory, not our own.

We want to raise children who have the ability to think beyond themselves.  To look up and out at the world around them and to see it, acknowledge it, and know that all of those people out there in it, they’re equally as important as you.  The question is, are we making them feel like they are?

I’m finding it’s not the norm for kids these days, if it ever was.  It isn’t their natural mode to want to help someone else shine or to encourage them in whatever it is they’re doing.  More often we want to see the fail vines of other peoples lives while we show the pinterest version of ourselves and our kids are picking up on it!

Jean Twenge is one of my favourite authors on the subject of self.  I devoured two of her books in just a few weeks, the first one titled “Generaton Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled – and More Miserable Than Ever Before” and the second, “The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement“.

In the latter, she says this,

On a reality TV show, a girl planning her sixteenth birthday party wants a major road blocked off so a marching band can precede her grand entrance on a red carpet.  A book called My Beautiful Mommy explains plastic surgery to young children whose mothers are going under the knife for the trendy “Mommy Makeover.”  It is now possible to hire fake paparazzi to follow you around snapping your photograph when you go out at night – you can even take home a faux celebrity magazine cover featuring the pictures.  A popular song declares, with no apparent sarcasm, “I believe that the world should revolve around me!” People buy expensive homes with loans far beyond their ability to pay – or at least they did until the mortgage market collapsed as a result.  Babies wear bibs embroidered with “Supermodel” or “Chick Magnet” and suck on “Bling” pacifiers while their parents read modernized nursery rhymes from This Little Piggy went to Prada.  People strive to create a “personal brand”, packaging themselves like a product to be sold.  High school students pummel classmates and then seek attention for their violence by posting YouTube videos of the beatings.

Although these seem like  a random collection of current trends, all are rooted in a single underlying shift in the American psychology: the relentless rise of narcissism in our culture.

I’m not sure it’s anything particularly new.  We’ve always wanted people to like us, think well of us, and feel popular and validated and all of that.  It’s as old as human beings themselves.

The question that we’re raising as parents is, in this age of ever increasing narcissism, how are we going to teach our kids to care about others?

It may come natural to your kiddo’s, this loving their neighbour modus operandi, but I assure you it doesn’t to our little brood.  And so, as it is with everything else, we talk.  We practice.  We even role play hypothetical situations that may arise in their schools, amongst their friends, on social media, so they’re prepared ahead of time for what they should do.

When I come home from work these days, my boys ask, “How was your day, Mom?”  I love this and appreciate it even though I was the one who taught it.  Previously, they would get in the car after school and I would ask them, every single day, how their day was and every single day they would answer and leave it at that.  Until I taught them.  Respectfully, boys, you should ask me how my day was, too.  Because when you care about another person, you care to know what happened to them that day, what their highs or lows were, to let them tell their stories.

And so, they do.

Just this past weekend, we pushed it a touch further.  Given that I’m the only female in our house, I encouraged them to ask the words even more specifically, “How do you feel, Mom?”  It’s an age old science that shows that women respond well to ‘feel’ words and men to ‘think’ words.  So, when asking their dad, they say, “What do you think about that?” instead.

I have to say, I have never felt more loved. And I tell them just that!

I only hope that they’re learning to push these teachings outside the walls of this home and are asking the same of their teachers, their friends, one day their girlfriends and their wives and then teaching them to their children one day too!

There is so much to teach in parenting, isn’t there?  I’m finding this little stuff is often just as important as the big.  I want my boys to be caring and compassionate to those around them and if that can start with just a few little lessons on using the words, “How are YOU?” instead of letting all conversations be geared around them?  Well, you know I’m going to do it!

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