Love your neighbor as yourself. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Many of the wisdom traditions use a version of the Golden Rule. This rule or guideline stresses compassion.
I think back to when I was a child growing up in the ’70s and ’80s and the problems I felt were in my life. The issues of friendships, where to go to eat on a Saturday night (Pizza Hut, of course), and what to do when I felt there was nothing to do. I usually didn’t know about a party until after the fact. If my friends decided to go to the movies and I wasn’t home to pick up the phone, my friends left me to find my own entertainment.
It’s different today for the younger generation. Teens today have instant notifications, instant invitations, or instant connections, all through the little device in their hands. Yet is it really what they want or need? There are reports of young people feeling disconnected and lonely among the ability to connect instantly.
Even though my teen years are so much different from my children’s, I can still have compassion for this generation’s young people because of an essential shared human experience. The needs of belonging, connection, and to matter are a few of the needs I can relate to, even though I am an “old” person.
I have worked in the area of social and emotional learning for over 16 years. Over those years, I have learned that building a connection with a caring, capable, and compassionate adult is essential in a young person’s life – an adult who will listen and make a serious attempt to understand.
Compassion is created from three components – awareness of suffering, action to relieve suffering, and recognizing a shared human experience. I see a young person sitting on the sideline watching while others play a game. I go over the talk to the young person, strike up a conversation and find out she doesn’t know the game’s rules. Then I take the time to explain the rules and then ask her to play. That is an act of compassion.
The Search Institute, a research organization in Minneapolis, has a list of 40 positive supports and strengths a young person needs to succeed. One area is support: care from family, other adults, community members, and school staff. When a young person feels supported by the adults around him/her, there is a decrease in high-risk behaviors. Simple ways to connect with youth can happen in your community. YOU can play a part in the solution!
Here are ten ways you can increase your compassion and connect with a child or teen.
- Take an interest in an activity a teen you know is involved in by attending the activity or asking questions of the teen. Then listen.
- Ask a child what they are interested in doing. What are her passions? What sparks his interests? Then listen.
- Play a game of pick-up basketball with a group of kids for fun.
- Invite kids on the sidelines to participate in a game.
- Give an authentic and specific compliment to a child. An example could be, “Wow, I admire how you organized the books on the shelf.”
- Do a random act of kindness for a teen.
- Ask, “What are your dreams?” Then listen.
- Accept a child for who he or she is, a unique individual in this world.
- Make sure making mistakes is “okay” for both kids and adults.
- Breathe deeply before saying something that could harm a child.
If you take action on even some of these ten simple activities, you will build compassion in yourself and the other person over time. These actions will not solve the complex problem of loneliness, violence, or inequities in our world; however, it is a start.