November 14, 2013 —

One of the best ways to help our teens avoid the consequences of negative behaviors like bullying and cough medicine abuse is to get them involved in helping other people. Warning them about the "bad things" and teaching them how to say "no" to negative behavior is important, but it's not enough. We also have to give them something to say "yes" to.  There is no “magic formula,” but there are some things we can do to improve the chances that our teens will choose to help other people over harming others and themselves.

Here are a few ideas for teaching your teens to help other people:

Model it yourself.
More is caught than taught. You will accomplish more by your example than you will with your words alone. It’s so much easier to talk about helping people than it is to actually go out of your way to do something for others. We have to really care enough about the people around us to inconvenience ourselves and prove it. Even if our kids don’t seem to be catching it right away, they will sooner or later and it will make an impact.

Make it part of your daily conversation.
Find ways to weave "helping others" into your everyday discussions. Reinforce the concept that each of us needs to “be the change we want to see in the world.” At appropriate ages, introduce them to the global problems we face. If they don’t know the issues, they can’t be part of the solutions.

Make sure they have other adults in their life who model it.
Our kids need other voices speaking into their lives. Even if you have a GREAT relationship with your teen, they need to hear other adults talk about what’s important in life. The time will come (if it hasn’t already) when they will look to others for validation or a “second opinion” on life. When that happens, you’ll want to make sure that you’ve helped them meet adults that they can trust, who will also model and teach the value of helping others. You might find these adults in coaches, teachers, scout leaders, neighbors, older siblings, etc.

Find opportunities for them to help people, now.
In small ways, they can begin to learn the pleasure and impact that comes from doing things for others. Together, you can pick up trash in your neighborhood or mow someone's lawn. When you do things like this, you’re helping them get their “helping-people-legs” under them.

If it’s part of what they do as a teen, it’s likely going to be part of what they do as an adult. When they invest in other people, they are avoiding the negative alternatives AND, in turn, becoming the solutions to the next generation's problems!

Mike Burns is a father-of-six that lives in Phoenix, AZ. He blogs about living well and focusing on what's most important at theothersideofcomplexity.com.  He and his wife, Jen, also write about intentional parenting at sotheycanfly.com. You can connect with Mike on Twitter (@mikemikeburns) and Facebook (facebook.com/theothersideofcomplexity; facebook.com/sotheycanfly).