Helping Friends in Need: Sometimes Teenagers Can Make Altruistic Choices
One of my son’s friends is hurting. She put out a semi-public message describing her predicament, but she never actually asked for help. She offered to do some tasks for people — for ridiculously little money, thus, I think, showing how desperate her situation must really be. She is not one of my son’s closest friends, but she is in his broad group of friends. He was troubled by her situation and wanted to find a way to help her.
As I drove home the night that I learned about this situation, I pondered what my son could do. And I wondered how much of himself he would really be willing to give in order to help his friend. When I got home, I told him that I had several ideas. But before I could even really present those ideas, my son told me that he’d already decided what he was going to do to help. For his birthday, my son received some cash from his grandparents and his uncle. He decided to hire his friend to perform one of those tasks — one for which she wanted to be paid a paltry $15 — and then give her a $35 “tip”.
I told my son that I was very proud of him, both for wanting to help in the first place and for being so generous with his own money. After all, $50 is nearly the cost of a new Xbox game!
But I became even more proud a few minutes later. My son’s twin sister heard us discussing the situation. She doesn’t even know my son’s friend (I’m not even sure if they’ve met before), but my daughter decided that if helping was so important to my son, then she would also give the friend $50.
I think that both of my kids recognize that $50 is a lot of money; but I also think that they view it as a small amount over the course of a lifetime. And I think that they each recognize that the value of that $50 to them, measured in terms of books or games or Starbucks pales in comparison to the worth that same amount of money has for someone in need.
As our kids have matured, my wife and I have stressed how important we believe it is for each of us to try, in whatever small ways we can, to make the world around us a better place and to find ways to help those who are less fortunate than we are. I may ride my kids from time to time; certainly I’m critical when they don’t do as well on their schoolwork as I know they’re capable of and I’m not shy about voicing my opinion when they do something that disappoints or angers me. But this episode demonstrates, I think, that when it really matters, when it comes to those things that my wife and I stress as being at the core of who we are and who we want our kids to be, my kids are good people whose hearts are in the right places.
My son wants to take the lead in seeing if he can get any of the rest of his group of friends to help, but he doesn’t want to brag to them about what he did or make them feel bad if they are unable or unwilling to help. So he isn’t sure if he is going to push his friends to help; he’s going to have to tread those waters on his own. But perhaps he won’t need to prod his other friends at all; perhaps they, too, will react in a spirit of generosity on their own.
Let’s hope that my son’s generosity is not unusual; let’s hope that this situation becomes a lesson of the goodness of humanity and not a lesson in the rarity of altruism.