I heard Dr. Luthar speak about her research on youth growing-up in high achieving schools, often in communities of affluence. She mentioned a lack in kindness on Mercer Island. What did she mean and how did this come across? I assume this is not healthy for our kids. Is there something we can do to improve in this area?
Your question is a timely topic for both our community and country. Dr. Luthar did comment on the phenomena of a lack of kindness. Her impression of this came from some of her conversations in the community, not specifically from her research.
Dr. Luthar spoke with several different parent, school, community and youth groups. In her conversations, some of the youth referred to a sense that adults here are not nice to each other. Her impression was that this spoke not only to the absence of kindness but also, sometimes, to the presence of unkindness. She heard that MI is not always a truly close-knit, mutually supportive community. She heard about an insular community where everyone knows everyone’s business but does not always go out of their way to be good, kind and helpful to others.
Dr. Luthar discussed this topic with adults and school personnel as her work centers around youth well being and the role adults can play in reducing stressors. She shared concerns about this observation and related it to one aspect of her research that finds a correlation between highly critical mothers and youth stress. These two phenomena occurring together could have a compounding effect.
Feedback from community focus groups have limitations and, clearly, not every Islander exhibits these behaviors. In fact, Mercer Island has many kind people of all ages who interact positively and kindly. This is very important because the path she suggests in moving forward is to focus on expanding kindness so more adults model and teach it to youth.
Kindness needs to be an integral part of regular interactions and behavior. It should not be saved just for certain activities, such as donating or volunteerism. Kindness is most powerful when it becomes a norm by being widely prevalent in the attitude, tone, word selection of our everyday interactions.
In addition to modeling kindness, help your child recognize, identify and deal effectively with unkindness. Point it out to them and explain how the interaction could be different. This discernment will help your child neutralize unkindness and address it when facing it themselves.
There are excellent websites that provide guidance in modeling kindness and developing kindness in our children and community — find one that fits for you or your family. Thank you for the question. Every kind behavior, however small, impacts the community we share.
Cindy Goodwin is the director of Mercer Island Youth and Family Services. The advice offered by YFS is intended for informational purposes only. If you have a question you would like to ask Cindy to answer in this column, or if you need additional professional resources, email firstname.lastname@example.org.