I recently overheard a group of teenage girls chatting. Was it about all the fascinating things they’re doing in school, extracurricular activities, goals, dreams—or any of the topics for which they have plenty to say? Turns out, they were bad-mouthing a classmate, ripping her apart bit by bit. Had these girls ever heard the expression, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all?”
The teens were beautiful, smart and motivated. But instead of appreciating positive attributes in themselves and others, they examined every last inch under a microscope and only focused on the negative. How can we teach self-reflection to enable kids to value the phenomenal qualities in themselves and others? They need to know how special they are, so they aren’t compelled to put others down in an effort to elevate themselves.
Experts say parents should encourage their children’s passions, so they can be successful at what they enjoy, feel more powerful and become distracted from the pettiness.
We need to reassure girls that it’s OK to be attractive, talented and smart—they don’t have to choose just one. Broaden their world to expose them to diverse activities, cultures and socioeconomic groups. Celebrate their uniqueness and inspire them to be proud of their individuality, so they learn to make the right choices instead of what they perceive to be the popular ones.
Applaud participation in community service to help them develop compassion, empathy and kindness—and to illuminate how lucky they are.
As a society, we need to model acceptance, forgiveness and trust, and demonstrate how these actions are more effective than intolerance, judgment and punishment.
We need to remember, too, that the mean note we passed as children could be ripped up and thrown away, but nasty messages on social media last forever. So, teach your children to think long and hard before posting—and encourage them to connect with friends in person. Since brains grow through social connection, texting, Instagram and Snapchat are preventing our kids from learning through human interaction.
And remember, day-to-day encounters are not Yelp reviews. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.