By Marli Naidoo
A teenager can be inclined to be totally absorbed with his own life and thoughts, and have little time for the problems and needs of others.
Although this is a normal phase of development, loving intervention and instruction in empathy are necessary. If teenagers aren’t equipped to act selflessly, they will develop into self-serving and unpleasant adults.
The last section of the brain to reach maturity is the prefrontal cortex, which is associated with impulse control and decision-making. Teenagers therefore use the section of the brain that takes other people’s feelings and thoughts into account to a minimal extent.
When you notice that your teen is acting in a selfish manner in a situation, you can chat to him about how his actions affects others, and how he could make better decisions in such a situation.
Set boundaries. Make sure your teen understands that selfishness will not be tolerated.
Provide your teen with sufficient opportunities to experience and apply selflessness. Help him to donate clothes and items he no longer uses to welfare.
Allow your teen to choose a welfare organisation where he may help as a volunteer, and to which he can make donations. If he loves animals, he can help out at your nearest animal welfare by playing with the dogs or taking them for a walk.
Help your child to make contact with other duty-conscious teenagers who want to make a positive difference in the lives of others. This will inspire him and help him get used to acting unselfishly.
Your teen longs to be independent, but this does not mean that your actions would no longer influence him. He needs to see that you act unselfishly, that you care for the weak and less privileged in the community.
Expect your teen to make contributions in the home. Together you can decide what an acceptable number of chores would be, and you can encourage your kids to serve one another in small ways. Teach your teen to offer everyone cool drink instead of pouring a glass just for himself.
Most probably your teen won’t become selfless naturally. He will need your help to learn to acquire this. However, don’t criticise him or expect him to change into an activist overnight. The prefrontal cortex only reaches maturity when you are 25 years old.
The good news is that adolescence is one of the only two periods in one’s life during which the brain grows faster and is greatly open to influence. It therefore is the perfect time to teach your child about empathy and selfless service.
Melbourne Child Psychology: https://www.melbournechildpsychology.com.au/blog/help-teenagers-develop-empathy/
Focus on the family: https://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/helping-your-teen-learn-selfless-living/
Allina Health: https://www.allinahealth.org/healthysetgo/thrive/helping-kids-move-from-selfish-to-selfless
Compass Rose Academy: https://compassroseacademy.org/from-selfish-to-selfless-how-to-change-your-teens-world-view/
Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/surviving-your-childs-adolescence/201212/parental-resentment-toward-self-centered-adolescent