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SALT LAKE CITY — What do you do when your teenager is having a hard time making friends? Maybe you encourage her to reach out, but she tells you that you just don't get it. You ask her if she would like to throw a party, but she says, “Nobody throws parties anymore.” Are your suggestions completely outdated?
Randy Hyde, a Ph.D. child psychologist of 30 years, says that the same principles of kindness and generosity still apply in relationships, even relationships between teenagers.
Here are nine principles parents can teach their children to help them overcome their shyness.
1. Other teenagers are feeling insecure too.
It might help your teen to understand that other teens are also feeling insecure. Because many teenagers struggle with feeling confident, they may not act as nice as they truly are.
"Kids are hitting a stage where they are discovering themselves, and there’s a lot of comparing," Hyde said. "Kids want to be strong and powerful and tough."
Unfortunately, many teens think that being nice is being weak, and they don't want to show any vulnerability. They feel safer acting aloof than they do acting friendly.
It may help your teen to understand that if other kids aren't reaching out to him, it's not because there's something wrong with him. Other teens are also afraid of being rejected, and they might find it easier to play it safe. Helping your teen understand that many teens feel the same way he or she does helps them realize that they are not alone.
2. Look for role models who are both strong and kind.
Because teens often fear that they might look weak if they are nice, parents need to persuade their children that "power and strength come from being empathic and nice and considerate," Hyde said.
Great leaders such as Jimmer Fredette and Thomas S. Monson are strong but also compassionate and kind. "When a kid meets someone like that who is warm and genuine and kind, it rocks their world," Hyde said.
Parents need to tell their children that kindness creates power and that they too can have that power when they are kind.
3. Work to build others up.
Show your teen how great it is to build others up, and they can "practice" being kind to their family members.
Hyde suggests saying simple things like "your hair looks really good today" can mean a lot to a little brother or sister.
Kids do not receive a lot of compliments, so kind words can be very impactful. According to Hyde, the average junior high student gets 12 negative comments for every one positive comment at home — and it's even worse at school, where teens get 18 negative comments for every one positive comment.
"Here’s all these empty buckets," Hyde said. "Just a little kindness, a little warmth, has miraculous results. ... It’s easy."
When Hyde was a teenager, he did not get along with his younger brother. One night, Hyde was lying on the bottom bunk of their bunk bed wondering why his younger brother got the top bunk. But as he lay there feeling upset, he heard a voice say, "We’re losing your younger brother. You are the only one that can save him."
The next day, Hyde skipped his own track practice to cheer on his brother at a high school baseball game. When he got there, his brother said, “What are you doing here? Go run.”
Hyde held his ground, though, and when his brother started pitching he said he turned into the "world's most obnoxious fan." Hyde was screaming his heart out, annoying all the fans that sat around him. But after the game his brother came up to him and, without saying a word, gave Hyde a big hug.
"That changed everything. We became best friends," Hyde said.
Building others up is a powerful path to friendship.
4. The quickest way to build up your own self-confidence is to reach out to others.
If your teen struggles with self-confidence, the quickest way to build it is to build up others. Carl Rogers, an eminent psychologist, found that while love is critical to our emotional health, we build ourselves up three times faster when we give love than when we receive love.
Likewise, Hyde encourages teens to consider how they feel after they've complimented someone else. They will feel stronger and better about themselves.
5. Smile and look people in the eye.
Encourage your teenager to smile often. "The most attractive feature on a person, the research shows, is their smile," Hyde said.
Even if you walk by someone you don't know at school, still smile. They might smile back, which makes both of you feel stronger.
Why is a smile so powerful? It's because, Hyde explained, "it’s instinctual across the globe that a smile simply is conveying, 'I accept you and like you.'"
"Since people need to feel important and included, eye contact is one of the best ways to communicate this to another person," Hyde said. "It communicates, 'I am truly with you.'"
6. Be curious about others and include everyone.
Hyde suggests teens aske thier peers questions such as, "What do you want to be when your grow up?" or "Did you see Mazerunner?" This helps create commonality; and once they find they have similar interests it becomes easier to talk with them.
While teenagers can often form cliques, Hyde says teens can be more more influential if they include everyone.
When Hyde was a sophomore in high school, his friends whom he had grown up with were part of the elite group. They were popular and while he liked hanging out with them, he wanted to reach out to everyone.
"I made a decision that I was going to be friends with everybody — the stoners, the jocks, especially the lonely, the nerds, the preps . . . and it made all the difference for me," Hyde said. "If I saw somebody that was lonely, I went out of my way to be kind to them."
He was surprised when someone nominated him for student office. While the boy that Hyde ran against was a great athlete and very popular, Hyde won handily because, "I was friends with everybody," he said.
7. Learn to deal with others who are unfriendly or unresponsive.
Sometimes other teens may not seem to appreciate kindness. After Hyde won the school election, one of his friends asked him, “So what? Are you too good to be friends with me now?”
He realized then that she felt threatened by his win and worried that he would no longer be nice to her. He understood he had to be even more kind to her to help her deal with her feelings of insecurity.
Hyde pointed out that often when we sincerely complement others, we don't receive a thank you or a positive reaction. However, this shouldn't deter us.
"The Savior cured 10 lepers and nine left without saying thank you ... one came back and said thank you. Sometimes you just have to do it because it’s the right thing to do, and you’re building yourself, and you’re serving God," Hyde said.
Becky Blackburn is the mother of five children and is a native of Price, Utah. She graduated from the J. Reuben Clark Law School (BYU). Her blog can be found at beckyblackburn.com.