I used to avoid the self-checkout line at Stop & Shop the way some people avoid pumping their own gas.  Sometimes it’s just easier to have a human being help you do something rather than a machine.  But recently I decided I would avoid a long line by using the self-checkout option to scan my two items.  One of my items was a gift card and the instant I swiped it I remembered it needed to be activated (by a human being).

Swiping the gift card signaled a young employee who made her way over to me, rolling her eyes as if she were completely annoyed.  “You can’t go through this line with a gift card,” she said in a monotone voice, pressing some buttons to void my purchase.  I made a split second decision to not let her rudeness affect me.  “Lesson learned,” I said to her, smiling, and I looked for a line with a cashier.

There is a lesson here and it is not about gift cards needing to be activated by humans. Rather, it is this:  We each are responsible for being on our best behavior, even when we feel tired, stressed, unmotivated or rattled by someone else’s behavior because good behavior stops rude behavior in its tracks.  I have no idea why this woman needed to roll her eyes at me prior to fixing my simple mistake, but maybe the kindness I showed her is precisely what she needed at that moment. I needed to let it go, too, lest it ruin my day.

A word or a smile is often enough to put fresh life in a despondent soul.”  — St. Therese de Lisieux

I want my teenagers to understand that their words and actions can positively or negatively affect those around them.  They need to think before they act or speak.  This is not easy for anyone, let alone teenagers.  Drama and raging hormones are a natural part of teens’ lives. If they could just make that split second decision to be kind, even in uncomfortable situations, everyone would benefit.  This is not equivalent to the “kill ‘em with kindness” approach in which an overboard dose of kindness is used to illustrate another person’s lack of it.  Kindness could also come in the form of encouraging words or a sincere compliment.

It’s no secret that teenagers value edgy, witty, sarcastic types.  For better or for worse, these are the leaders in the teenage world and often in the adult world, too.  This is fine, in my opinion, as long as these same people and a boatload of others are also kind and compassionate.  The world needs more of these types and we need to recognize that being kind is cool.  It’s mutually beneficial to be kind – feeling good to be the giver and to be the receiver of kindness.

Speaking of kindness…..  It feels good to hear kind words about your children.  Parenting is not easy.  You often question every move you make, wondering if you’re giving your children what they need in terms of advice, discipline, love and independence.  You try to lead by example but often make your own mistakes.  Our kids are not with us 24/7 so we don’t always see how they act or react in different situations. All we can do is try to lead by example and hope they are kind and compassionate to others.

Two Teens, Two Dads, and Six Degrees of Separation

My friend Christine told me a story that illustrates how kind teens can be when no one is watching.  Christine learned that a co-worker’s autistic son would be heading to a camp for high school runners this past summer.  His parents were both thrilled and anxious about the prospect of sending him away to enjoy something he discovered he loved to do.  He had never spent time away from home, let alone with teenagers who may not understand or accept his quirky yet harmless behaviors.

Later in the summer, Christine was chatting with a high school friend who shared that his teenage daughter had spent time at a running camp.  By coincidence, the two teenagers, who lived in different parts of Massachusetts, had attended the same running camp that summer.  When her co-worker brought his autistic son to work one day, Christine asked Bobby about camp.

“I know there were tons of kids, but did you ever meet a girl named Taylor at your camp?  Her dad is a friend of mine and he said she went to that camp and it might have been during the same session.”  To Christine’s delight, Bobby stopped whatever he was doing, looked up from his computer and turned to her, eyes wide and full of interest.   He went on to say “I know Taylor!  She was nice to me.  And then her friends were. We had a great time together.”

How fortunate that Christine was privy to news about both teens attending this camp and that she could piece together the essence of Taylor from the positive impression she had made on her co-worker’s son.   It thrilled Bobby’s dad to hear his son loved the camp and had made friends, but more importantly, he was hopeful now that this could be the beginning of many other new adventures for Bobby.

Likewise, it  made Taylor’s dad feel good when he heard of the impact his daughter had made on a kid who just wasn’t like everyone else, and who sometimes struggled in social situations.   She made him feel included and convinced others that it was okay to be his friend.

Perhaps you’re skeptical that a teen could be so genuinely kind to another teen who is a little bit different from others.   Ordinarily I would share your skepticism except I know Taylor fairly well and it doesn’t surprise me one bit that she is the kind of person who would extend kindness to a stranger. And I am certain that there are many other wicked good teens out there who we may not hear about, who would show that same kindness as well.

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