Many parents will agree that one of the most challenging things they face is getting their teens to practice empathy and consider the needs of others over their own. Adolescents that are struggling with behavioral issues are generally even more egocentric and wrapped up in themselves. However, studies have shown that there is a strong connection between service for others and a lessening of depression and stress. If troubled teens have consistent opportunities to help others and practice opportunities to be considerate and kind, it could play a part in helping them heal and learn to empathize with others, which is a valuable personal characteristic to have. The question is; how do you get your teen to participate in acts of service in a way that makes it more than another annoying chore they have to do?
Model Selflessness – It can often feel like everything you say to your teen falls on deaf ears, but you may be surprised at how much he watches you. Make giving and selflessness a part of your daily life and show him the kind of behavior that should make up a part of a mature adult’s lifestyle. At the very least, he will see that you are not asking him to incorporate something into his lifestyle that you are not willing to do as well.
Offer Opportunities – Serving others can often feel like a chore, especially for adolescents, but even they are not immune to the positive feelings that come from helping others. Rather than make a big deal about your teen giving up his time or energy in order to be selfless, look for opportunities where you can make an act of service a family affair. While you should always look for smaller opportunities here and there, why not plan something that you can do as a family on a monthly basis and particularly let your teen weigh in on potential projects. Not only will it create good habits and make service a regular part of your life, it can also get your son thinking about things around him that need done, i.e. cleaning up litter in the local park, or raking up the fall leaves for an elderly neighbor.
Be Encouraging – While being overly enthusiastic about every small act of service is likely to backfire on a suspicious teen, everyone likes to know that the things they do for others are at least noted. Encourage your son when you see him demonstrate selflessness, whether it is a big thing like a project, or something small like taking the heavy grocery bags from you. Make sure you reflect back the kind of positive gratitude that will remind him when he is headed in the right direction.
Sundance Canyon Academy, a residential treatment center in northern Utah, specializes in helping troubled teen boys overcome their issues through a variety of proven therapy techniques, including acts of service. We have helped hundreds of families repair their relationships and see their teen boys become happy and productive individuals. For questions about our program or a consultation, please contact us today at 1-866-678-2425