I recently read a post on social media that went something like this:
Teenage boy filling up his shiny, new car at a gas station notices an older gentleman in a beat-up truck waiting to fill a gas can. The boy approaches the man, asks for the can, and proceeds to fill it up before returning to fill the rest of his car’s tank. When the man tries to pay the boy, the boy refuses, choosing another’s need above his own.
What a great example of humility.
You better believe I read the account to my seventeen-year-old son and followed it up with a conversation about why we need more of this from teenagers today. With too much over-indulgence, self-centeredness, and just plain lack of consideration for others, I’m looking for any help I can get to teach humility to my teenager.
In The Purpose-Driven Life, Rick Warren said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” But how can we teach our children to think about themselves without teaching them to think less about themselves? The answer lies in teaching them the combination of personal value and humility—knowing they have something important to give but remembering why they give it.
Here are three tips for teaching humility to youth in today’s world.
If you’re wondering how to teach a child humility, start by encouraging gratitude. Help them see that regardless of their circumstances, they can be grateful. When we help our children recognize the good in their lives, they are more likely to look outside themselves, keep things in perspective, and develop humility.
Here are a few ways to encourage our kids to be grateful.
- Write thank-you notes. This might seem old fashioned, but the time and effort it takes to write a thank-you note can help our kids be humble. When children (and adults, for that matter) take the time to acknowledge a thoughtful gift or gesture, they more clearly see the value of what they were given. So, if your teenager receives gifts for a birthday or help with a project, encourage them to write a thank-you note expressing their gratitude.
- Send a text. Maybe a thank-you note is a little extreme for some kind gestures, but sending a thank-you text rarely goes astray. Recently I received a random text from one of my son’s friends thanking me for teaching a class at church. The effort probably took him 30 seconds. But I would chance to say the impact on him lasted longer. I know it impacted me. Through that simple act of thoughtfulness, I saw humility.
- Keep a gratitude journal. This was all the rage several years ago when Oprah Winfrey promoted the practice. In 2012 she shared an interesting observation. “A few years ago, when I came across [a gratitude journal entry], I wondered why I no longer felt the joy of simple moments. Since 1996 I had accumulated more wealth, more responsibility, more possessions; everything, it seemed, had grown exponentially—except my happiness. How had I, with all my options and opportunities, become one of those people who never have time to feel delight? I was stretched in so many directions, I wasn’t feeling much of anything. Too busy doing. …But the truth is, I was busy in 1996, too. I just made gratitude a daily priority. I went through the day looking for things to be grateful for, and something always showed up.” Teaching children humility is as easy as teaching them to recognize and record their gratitude.
If you’re wondering just how to teach humility to a teenager, consider giving them opportunities to serve. If you’ve noticed that your teenagers tend to focus on themselves more than ever before, you’re not alone. According to Amy Morin, LCSW, “Being egocentric is part of normal teenage development. It helps adolescents separate from their families and form their own unique identities.”
But the natural consequence of the teenage years doesn’t have to derail our efforts in teaching humility to youth. We can help them balance those egocentric tendencies by encouraging them to serve others.
Here are a few ways teenagers can serve.
- In the home. What better venue for practicing service than in the home? Encourage your teenage children to serve family members regularly. Invite them to go out of their way to look for things to do for each other. They can start small with things like making beds, picking up belongings, or preparing food for each other. This is different from assigned chores around the house. This is strictly serving to serve. Invite your kids to look for ways to help around the house outside their assigned responsibilities. This type of service can help them be humble.
- In everyday interactions. In addition to serving in your home, your kids can learn humility by looking for ways to serve those they interact with each day. Simple things like holding doors for strangers, giving generous tips, or allowing drivers to merge in traffic can help our teenage sons and daughters shift their focus outward and learn humility. Watch as this universal concept comes to life in this heartfelt commercial for life insurance.
- With organized groups. Your teenage children can also learn humility by serving with organized groups in your community, including local neighborhood organizations, church groups, or government entities. You can find service opportunities through websites like Volunteer.gov, JustServe.org, and others. Watch how NFL player Anquan Boldin learned the importance of serving others when he saw the need to teach this concept to his own teenage son.
Finally, if we want to help our teenage kids develop humility, we should teach them to work. I will never forget a story a friend shared years ago when my kids were still young. He said that every summer his dad made all the boys in the family move a large woodpile from one side of the property to the other. As far as he could remember, there was no real purpose for moving the woodpile other than to give the boys a job to do. That image has stayed with me all through my teenage-rearing years.
Teenagers need responsibilities to learn humility. Here are a few ways to help them work.
- Give your children chores. Give your kids responsibilities around the house in their early teen years (if not before). Help them understand the importance of being contributing members of the household. You can probably think of hundreds of ways to put them to work, but here are a few to consider: mowing the lawn, doing the dishes, cooking some meals, vacuuming, cleaning bathrooms, taking out the trash, dusting, cleaning a bedroom, driving siblings to activities, running errands, etc. The list could go on and on. Just find something for them to do and put them to work.
- Encourage them to get a job. As they get older, encourage your teenagers to get a job outside the home. Not only will this opportunity give them a sense of accomplishment as they earn money for some or all of their material needs. But it will also keep them grounded in humility rather than indulging the self-importance they might feel when everything is given to them freely.
Get Outside Themselves
The incessant messages our teenagers hear today—in everything from television ads to social media feeds—inflate their own self-importance and undermine our efforts to raise well-adjusted young adults who understand their place in the world. So, if we, as parents, want to buck the trend and start teaching humility to youth, we need to encourage them to get outside themselves. They can do that best by expressing gratitude often, serving others willingly, and working hard (both at home and at work) to keep themselves grounded. These three keys to teenage life will help them shift their perspective and remain humble in a world that is anything but.