As kids move from childhood to adulthood, part of the natural adolescent development process includes a focus on self. This focus makes sense from a development standpoint, as kids begin to become aware of themselves as individuals and experience new social and cultural dynamics. Generally, kids don’t want to stick out in a crowd; so, they begin to focus on their looks and behaviors in order to fit in. Experts in adolescent development often refer to this phenomenon that kids go through as “the imaginary audience,” which happens when adolescents believe that everyone else is watching them. Let me assure you, this self-focus is normal — and is not necessarily wrong. Self-focus certainly becomes wrong when our kids demonstrate selfish behaviors.
All young people eventually come to a fork in the road regarding this self-focus. Many move beyond obsessing with self to a balanced sense of self that places a high priority on others. Some, however, never make this transition and become, well quite frankly, selfish adults. So, while the adolescent focus on self is normal, we, as parents, have to be on the lookout for selfishness that threatens to become ingrained in the lives of our kids. The best approach, I believe, is proactive parenting: setting the example for our kids, helping them to move from selfish to selfless. Here are three ideas on how you can achieve this noble goal.
Demonstrate Faith that Works. When it comes to the Christian faith, I believe that the call to Christ is the call to serve. Sure, we need to know about the truths of our faith, but we also are called to live it. Part of living out our faith includes serving others. Unfortunately, one of the ways we unintentionally teach our kids to be selfish is when we don’t get involved in serving others.
One of the great religious and political figures of our world was Mahatma Gandhi. When Gandhi studied law in South Africa, he attended a Christian church. Gandhi was impressed with Jesus, and thought the Sermon on the Mount was the greatest piece of literature ever put to paper…but he wasn’t impressed with Christians. He chided Christians when he said that, in his judgment, the Christian faith doesn’t lend itself to much preaching or talking. Instead, Gandhi thought, Christianity was best propagated by living and applying it.
Teach that Service is Simple. Communicate to your kids that one doesn’t have to give a lot of money in order to be a selfless person — and to make a difference for God. God wants each of us to serve Him where we are and with what we have. Remember Christ’s words in Matthew 25? “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'”
When talking about being selfless, Jesus mentioned the basic necessities of life: food, clothing, and health. He wasn’t talking about bigger-than-life responsibilities, but simple things that mean all of the difference in the world. Again, showing your kids that you serve in simple ways is a great way to develop their sense of what it means to be selfless!
Help Kids Learn that Real Giving Means “No Strings Attached.” So many people today view giving to others with the expectation of getting something back. This kind of giving is self-focused. Selflessness, on the other hand, is based on “no strings attached.” What are you teaching kids through your giving? Of course, it’s fine to have special interests in giving! Everyone has causes that they care more deeply about than others. The real question is, does your giving demonstrate that you primarily give when you get something back? If so, it’s time to reevaluate how you give.
Will your kids grow up to be selfish or selfless adults? Like most areas of life, parents have a direct influence on the outcome through their own examples. Make sure you are living out the message you want your kids to learn! If you get a handle on the three areas, you’ll be proactively influencing your children to grow into the selfless adult whom Christ calls them to be!