The Kindness Conundrum

Parents, when your kids get home after a long day, what questions do you ask them about their day? Is there a theme? Do they, perhaps, revolve around what they accomplished that day? What grade did you get on your project? Did you win your game? Did you get the job?

Because these are often the questions we ask, our children pick up that what they do and how successful they are is of ultimate importance—not just to the world, but to those of us who are raising and discipling them. In our competitive and violent world, our kids often learn that kindness equals weakness, that taking the time to care or be generous means they are missing opportunities to get ahead. Or sometimes they simply come to the conclusion that one can’t both share with others and learn to say no.

These messages come across even though we say that raising caring kids is our top priority; one study found that 80% of youth participants thought “their parents [were] more concerned about achievement or happiness than caring for others.” As one writer put it, “Kids learn what’s important to adults not by listening to what we say, but by noticing what gets our attention.” It seems we need to shift our attention.

A great and simple way to do this is to ask new questions: How did you share with others today? Did you bring a smile to someone’s face? How did you notice others being kind today? At first, you may just get confused looks or “I dunno”s. But eventually, they’ll have better answers because they’ll begin paying attention and even looking for ways to be kind.

Kindness, generosity, and love don’t always come easy, nor do they reap noticeable rewards—in fact, they can often appear to hurt our social standing or future prospects. We must teach our kids that we “love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19) and that our primary mission in life is to be imitators of Christ, regardless of outcome. But if we begin noticing and celebrating kindness in our kids, those little “rewards” can make a huge difference. As author Henry James once said, “Three things in human life are important: The first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.”  (The Culture Translator is a weekly newsletter by Axis dedicated to helping parents navigate today’s culture and connect with teens through meaningful conversations that last a life time.)