Heroes in Times of Crisis
The heroes who have emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic are the people who take care of others. They are the health care professionals, the first responders, and those individuals who allow our society to continue to function. They are the teachers doing what it takes to continue to educate young people. There truly are ordinary people everywhere doing extraordinary things. Many of them rarely receive the level of gratitude they deserve. According to Dr. Ken Ginsburg, Co-Founder of the Center for Parent and Teen Communication, we must help our teens recognize everyday heroes. In doing so, our teens will better see their strengths and abilities to change the world. That’s important because we want our young people to grow up to become their best selves and to care for and about others.
Throughout history, parents have passed along values to their children by telling the stories of heroes. They are often tales of people facing considerable roadblocks. But by using character strengths, they rise to and surpass their challenges and emerge stronger. In recent history, many of society’s heroes are sports figures, great actors and musicians, or those with other desirable talents, lifestyles, or status. Families can use the COVID-19 crisis to expand their understanding of qualities that make people heroic.
Heroes Teach Character
Parents can influence young people to recognize good character role models in their lives. Those models can serve as inspiration to treat others well and promote a better community. By expanding the definitions of what has traditionally been considered heroic in their lives, we offer our teens new things to learn about themselves. They may see examples of how much we can each fulfill a purpose, choose to be compassionate, or protect the vulnerable. These are all important virtues that become within their reach.
Help Teens See Heroes Around Them
Here are three things parents can do to make sure their teens recognize and appreciate the heroes and role models in their lives.
1) Discuss what makes someone a hero.
While many of us may think of heroes as having some extraordinary skill or talent, Dr. Ginsburg explains, “We can really move forward when we understand that there is something extraordinary within each of us when we choose to tap into it.” Take time to have a conversation with your young person about what it means to be a hero. Ask them who they consider a hero. If you watch a TV show or a movie together in which there’s a strong example, ask about the different character strengths the hero exhibited. Talk about a book you’ve both read that has a hero. Point out some of the same character attributes or strengths they share with the character. Talking to your teen about their strengths can improve communication. Share stories about the people who are heroes in your life, and why. As you do so, explore the obstacles they overcame, and others who may have helped them. Discuss what makes them good role models and how they conquered real-world challenges.
2) Role model gratitude.
Our young people learn kindness and gratitude not just from how we treat the people closest to us, but also from how we outwardly treat strangers. We can stand outside and applaud our healthcare workers. We can write notes to our children’s instructors thanking them for re-tooling their techniques so our kids can continue learning. Or we can honk in support when driving by first responders. But we can also say a kind word to the bus driver. Or develop a deeper level of appreciation for the person delivering food to us or to the grocery store worker who stacks shelves and keeps food in constant supply. By expressing our gratefulness for their hard work, we highlight their sacrifices and help build a stronger sense of community. “Gratitude allows us to elevate the extraordinary from what we’ve taken for granted,“ Dr. Ginsburg says. And gratitude comes with the added benefit of boosting teens’ (and our own) health and happiness.
3) Encourage contribution.
Teens who contribute to their community may find great sources of inspiration and discover new role models. Embolden your teen to work with a group that drops off meals to those in need, tutor a younger child at the local library (or over video chat), or volunteer to become a pen pal with the elderly. It will be easier for teens to recognize those heroes that care for others when they are involved in similar activities. Teens’ self-worth is boosted when they engage in acts of kindness and contribute to the well-being of strangers. Even small acts of goodwill can empower teens to understand they have the ability to impact on lives of others.
Finding Our Inner Hero
As the pandemic continues, so do the extraordinary actions and displays of kindness. The morgue worker who buys a daffodil to lay upon each of the deceased. The nurse who shares her phone so a bed-ridden patient can communicate with loved ones. The teen who makes a conscious choice to keep socially distant from friends to help protect others in the family. Recognizing the importance of those who take the time to care for others and sacrifice for the community has the potential to lead us into a better society moving forward. Show gratitude and appreciation for positive role models. Commit to contributing in your own way. Point out the character strengths in others and your children. These acts will help them become better at recognizing that heroes are all around us. They may also find their inner hero and go on to make a difference in the world.