When asked what the greatest commandment for conduct was, Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength.” Then he said, “Another is equally important. Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Loving your neighbor as yourself was a revolutionary concept at the time. It really outlined the care, concern and thought we are to give to all people. It said that you are important no matter what you look like or how much stuff you have. Given that Jesus lived in a culture of intense racism and classism, this was a shocking statement.
While racism and classism aren’t as overt today, they still exist. If you walk onto a middle school or high school campus you will see it to some extent. Class isn’t necessarily determined by monetary wealth, but by activity. Cheerleaders are in the highest class, and it filters down from there. A lot of students have friends of other races, but you still see people segregating. My clients regularly tell me there is a “Mexican group” on campus, and an “Asian group,” etc.
Teaching your teenagers to rise above this is one of your most important jobs as a parent.
One thing that very recently crossed my mind after reading the excellent book, Blue Like Jazz, by D. Miller, is what happens when you reverse the love your neighbor statement. Love yourself as your neighbor. I know this isn’t exactly what Jesus was getting at, but it is something very important for all of us to think about. We are often self-focused and self-centered in our thoughts and concerns. We are also self-deprecating and self-critical in our evaluations. In other words, we’d NEVER, EVER talk to our neighbor the way we talk to ourselves.
If your teenager is struggling to make and keep friends, then she has to successfully change her outlook on things. Firstly, she has to love their peers as she loves herself. Secondly, she has to love herself as she loves her peers. She has to spend a lot more time noticing and thinking about the concerns of others. She has to reach out in kindness to all the different groups of people on campus. She has to be very aware not to treat those of a “lower social class” any differently than the popular kids.
Your teen also has to work very, very hard on being kinder to himself. One question I often ask my adolescent clients is whether they’d talk to a friend the way they’d talk to themselves. Perhaps one of them has told me he thinks he really needs to lose weight, and looks awful in all his clothes. I ask what he’d say to a friend and he can easily say something affirming and kind. I then point out that if he can say those same kind words to himself, other people will like being around him more.
So, if your teen wants to make and keep more friends, your teenager needs to love others as himself, and love himself as he loves others. I know this all sounds very pie in the sky, but start to plant these seeds. Your teenager will need it for years. Even you need to work on this. We all do (me included)!
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT