Many parents teach their teens how to be good people, including how to be kind and compassionate to others. However, research shows that those teens who practice kindness also experience happiness and satisfaction in their lives. Although sometimes teens can be unkind to their peers, with some support from their parents and teachers, teen kindness might help them feel better, experience more positive feelings, and even gain new friendships.
Research on Teen Kindness
Kindness Counts was a research study administered by the University of British Columbia and the University of California, Riverside which found many benefits for tweens and teens who were kind. For one month, 19 classrooms filled with several hundred 9-11 year-olds performed and recorded three acts of kindness each week for anyone they wished. Another several hundred students documented three pleasant places they visited during the week.
As expected, the results led to increased feelings of happiness and satisfaction. When these students expressed kindness to others and noticed the beautiful places they visited each week, they reported increased positive feelings. However, there was another benefit that the students experience. Because they were expressing kindness to their peers, they were increasing the number of friendships they had. The study found that those who performed acts of kindness gained an average of 1.5 friends during the month-long study. The study pointed out that when teens are the giver of kindness (not only when they are the recipients) they can experience increased well being.
Taking into account the results of additional research studies, here is a summary of benefits teens experience when they are kind:
- experience more positive feelings
- get into less trouble
- exhibit less aggression
- showed less delinquent behavior
- less likely to fall into a “bad crowd”
- more likely to avoid drugs
- more likely to stay out of jail
- increased opportunities to finish college
As mentioned above there are many other studies that make the connection between teen kindness and happiness. Here’s is a brief list:
- This study finds the connection between social competence (kindness, emotional connection with others) in kindergarteners and their future wellness.
- Another University of British Columbia study found that giving to others leads to happiness in young children.
- A study by Brigham Young University and the University of Missouri followed 500 teens for two years and found that teens who were kind toward strangers and family members tended to stay out of trouble, and teens who were helpful toward their friends did not.
- This study goes deeper into the pro-social behavior of teens and their emotional health.
- This study suggests that certain dimensions of parenting can help promote pro-social behavior.
Fostering Kindness in Your Teen
If you’re convinced by the above research that being kind is a way to help foster happiness and well being in your teen, then perhaps you want to support your teen in being kind to others. Keep in mind that one of the studies above found that when teens are being kind to their friends but not to their family members or strangers, they may be motivated by peer pressure or social acceptance. Yet, as parents, we can help promote authentic teen kindness in the following ways:
Model kindness yourself. One clear way that your teen is going to know kindness is to see it in their parents. Keep in mind that if you’re going to get something in return for being kind, there’s a good chance your teen is going to make that connection. Instead, model actions that bear no reward other than feeling good.
Praise kindness when you see it in your teen. Although the goal is to encourage kind acts that teens choose to do on their own (versus being kind because they will feel their parents are expecting it), praising your teen for their kindness can still help instill benevolence in them.
Help your teen find opportunities to be kind. This can include encouraging your teen to volunteer or donate to community agencies. This might also include creating a family activity in which the whole family records one act of kindness per day. These activities can help a teen keep kindness on their minds and look for opportunities to be kind.
Share your experiences of kindness as a family. Whether you’re specifically doing the activity mentioned above or not, your family can make time to discuss how they were kind each week. This is a way for each member of the family to learn from each other’s acts of kindness. Hearing about these experiences can also help make the connection for a teen between kindness and increased positive feelings in life. Sharing these experiences with one another can help encourage reflection and create meaning for a teen.
Find ways to continue to be kind. To help your teen make kindness a practice, you can encourage them to keep a journal of their kindness and how it may be improving their emotional health. Another way to promote ongoing kindness is to connect with organizations that promote kindness, such as the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation.
Encourage your teen to spend time with others who are kind. Kindness can be contagious because of the positive feelings it delivers. When your teen spends time with those who are kind, compassionate, and thoughtful, they are more likely to exhibit the same traits.
Find ways to stay inspired. Sometimes, it can be hard if your teen is in a bad mood to inspire them to be kind. However, there are ways to help your teen get inspired, which in turn can support their mood.
The research shows that teen kindness can promote happiness, life satisfaction, emotional connection, and more. Over time, the effects of kindness may even be a prevention tool against anxiety and depression. If you’re a parent or caregiver and you want to support your teen’s emotional and psychological well being, consider the above tips. In doing so, you might also find that kindness is making a difference in your life too!