In a touching and fun essay John Moe writes about his observations of a small group of adolescent girls. Do not be afraid of registering for the New York Times. I’ve never had an onslaught of NYTimes e-mails. In his essay, Mr. Moe confronts his own prejudice about teenage girls. He discovers that the girls, who he was sure he would hear making cruel remarks about others, were actually only discussing there own insecurity and fears. They were inviting others to join them and exploring their own behavior. The girls were worried about whether they were as nice and as generous as they should be.
It turns out that teenagers value prosocial behavior. Adolescents who are popular and liked engage in prosocial action and can solve problems with prosocial solutions. In one study by Robert Hampson published in the Journal of Personality and Social Behavior in 1984, the data showed that in general students identified more peers as having helpful characteristics than unhelpful. In other words, being helpful was a fairly common characteristics. It also turns out that helpful peers engaged in more pro-social behavior according to observers ratings (research assistance not peers). In another study, published in the International Journal of Behavioral Development written by Laura Pakasluhti, Anu Karailainen, and Lisa Keltikangas-Jarvinen (2002), the results showed that rejected students were less likely to engage in prosocial behavior.
So, it is not just the parents who want teens to behavior nicely. Teens socialize each other to engage in behavior that benefits others. Well-liked teens and even popular teens are frequently helpful and attentive to the needs of others. Failure to attend to the needs of others can lead to peer rejections.
Having friends and being is so important. Teens who are liked are far less likely to be teased or attacked. If they are hurt, then those with a close friend or two who listens and cares are much less likely to suffer significant mental health problems according to some work by my mentor Dr. Eric Vernberg at the University of Kansas.
Finally, being nice is important to reducing one’s risk for being the target of violence. That is not to say that aggressors don’t pick on kind and thoughtful kids. Aggressors pick their targets because they can get away with it so sometimes the target will be a nice kid. It is just that it is harder to get away with picking on a nice kid because it is likely that their are number of people who will stand with that kids.
Ask yourself: did I treat my child in a manner that models and encourages prosocial behavior? Who did I help and how did I share that experience with my child? If you did those things, today you took action against violence. You made your child’s world safer.
Want to share with us what you did or experienced? Kelly C.