When you stop and take a long hard look at your teen, who do you see? Do you see an individual who is kind to others? Respectful of you and the rest of the family? Do you see a young man or woman who puts others first—who empathizes with someone going through tough times? Is he or she someone who likes himself enough so that she doesn’t have to put someone else down in order to feel superior? Do you see a chip off the ol’ block?
In the last several years, we’ve noticed a distinct decline in how humans treat each other. According to a report in School Psychology Review, more than 70% of young people say they have seen bullying in their schools. We’ve read about cases of cyberbullying that have led to suffering and sometimes suicide. Discussions on social media can be harsh, aggressive and disrespectful.
We are now in a political season when our candidates are hurling barbs at each other, criticizing and disparaging the views, policies, and actions of each other. These are the current role models that have an impact on our teens.
How do we help build character that counts?
We parents can too often focus on success, victory, and advancement at the expense of empathy, leading our teens to believe it is less important. Yet, it is through understanding our common humanity and seeing ourselves in each other that we can solve the challenges which face us and move forward as a society.
We have sat in the stands biting our nails and desperately rooting for our child’s success over an “opponent.” Or occasionally we’ve hoped for another student’s defeat so our child can advance. But as we have reflected on these encounters, we have come to believe that perhaps the more important value we need to teach is how to treat others with care. Sure, you want your child’s team to win. You certainly want your son or daughter to do well. But there is a way to cheer on your child and, at the same time, teach compassion and respect. Character counts.
Teens have a concept of what is important to their parents, and they reflect what they understand those values to be. Try reflecting on how you help others and look for that trait in your child. Good parenting is not just about what your children achieve but what kind of people they are. This is the difference between what Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik called Adam 1 and Adam 2 virtues.
In his book, The Road To Character, David Brooks expounds on this idea, saying Adam I is a person with virtues, achievements and qualities you would put on a job application. Adam II represents internal strengths of character and morality that develop over the course of a lifetime. Adam II is willing to suppress the needs of the self for the sake of the larger community. “While Adam I’s motto is ‘Success,’ Adam II experiences life as a moral dance.”
Let’s help our teens build a little of each.