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HELPING KIDS HELP OTHERS

Babies are born with the ability to become empathic, concerned about others, at a pretty early age.

Parents foster this important bit of our humanity by praising the acts of empathy, modeling such acts, and talking about how important it is to be kind to people. Kindness starts with understanding that others feel pain the same way we do. Kindness is 1) not inflicting pain and 2) helping others when they are in pain.

Helping others when they are in pain can be a problem. It’s easier when the person asks for our help. But it is very difficult when we notice someone has a problem but does not ask for help. The weighty issues of confidentiality and privacy make us hesitate. Should we get involved?

Teens struggle with this. About 5% of the emails I get are from preteens or teens. Here is one example:

“ I am 13 years old and in 8th grade. My friend from elementary school has a problem. She has been through a lot (parents that live with each other on and off, discovering who her real dad is) plus all the stresses of being a teenager. The part I am worried about is that ever since I have known her she has lied like crazy. She has told numerous people she had cancer and was going to die in a few months so they would hang out with her. She has lied about a singing career, a modeling career, and a daycare job. She has made up boyfriends, family members, and told crazy rumors. Not only does she tell those big lies she lies about little stuff too. It is an every day thing. She never admits to lying. I think it is more than just a phase, it is a mental disorder. Even though she has brought me into a lot of drama I want to help her. Should I tell her mom and step dad so that they can get her help? Her mom thinks her daughter is an amazing person so I am worried she won’t believe me. I am also worried that my friend will make my life a living hell. What do you think I should do?”

I welcome such questions from teens. My answers always start with praising them for recognizing that the friend has a problem. This friend needs attention from people and the only way she can get it is by lying. She does need help.

Right up front I tell teens who have a dilemma like this that YOU CAN’T HANDLE A PROBLEM LIKE THIS ON YOUR OWN. Next I tell them GO TO YOUR PARENTS. Ask your parents what they think you should do. Listen to their advice.

When the teen says in the letter, “I can’t go to my parents.” I urge them to reconsider and try. But there are some teens whose parents are not able to help so my next suggestion is a school counselor. Or a teacher or the principal.

I remind the letter-writer if she goes to her friend’s parents they could get angry and forbid their daughter from seeing her. “You may lose a friend. Worse, your friend may lose you, and you may be the only caring person in her life.”

Sadly, many people confronted with such a dilemma think they should mind their own business. I favor trying to help.

BTW occasionally I get a letter like this that is really about the person who wrote to me, not a “friend.” Often after I respond I get another letter admitting the truth. Interestingly my answer is the same: GO TO YOUR PARENTS AND TELL THEM WHAT YOU WROTE ME.

TELL YOUR FRIENDS THEY CAN GET A PROFESSIONAL, PERSONAL, AND PRIVATE ANSWER TO THEIR PARENTING QUESTIONS BY GOING TO info@ParentKidsRight.com