"I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, it will start a chain reaction of the same," my 17-year-old daughter, Rachel, wrote in an essay for school. "People will never know how far a little kindness will go."
Sometime later, I found the outline of Rachel's hand traced on the back of a piece of furniture, and in the center of her hand, she had written, "These hands belong to Rachel Joy Scott and will someday touch millions of people's hearts."
Rachel's been gone more than 11 years now. You see, she was the first student killed in the Columbine High School shootings in 1999. Still, her prediction that she would someday touch millions of lives has come true — in ways that not even she could have imagined.
In the weeks and months that followed the horrible Columbine tragedy, our family began to meet with students who had been touched by Rachel. We learned that she went out of her way to sit with a new student who had just lost her mom in a car accident. She stood up for a disabled student who was being bullied by two boys. She stopped to help a student fix a flat in the rain.
Her acts of kindness inspired a school-assembly program called Rachel's Challenge. More than 13 million young people have attended the assembly, and they've created over 950 Friends of Rachel Clubs that perform deliberate acts of kindness in their schools. Rachel's theory about a "chain reaction" of compassion and kindness has become a reality.
Rachel developed a compassionate heart at an early age. She was always talking to the kids who felt left out, always encouraging the ones who lost in a game or didn't get chosen. By the time she reached high school, Rachel's popularity was a direct reflection of the fact that she purposefully reached out to three groups of kids: the disabled, those teased by others and the new kids at school.
As a parent, I couldn't help but wonder, How do teens embrace a culture of kindness when everything around them seems to promote selfishness?
Parents can teach kindness
Perhaps Rachel's motivation came from her favorite Old Testament verse, Isaiah 50:4 (KJV). It reads, "The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary."
This verse was part of a conversation I had with each of my five children when they were young. We talked openly about this beautiful Scripture that details the when, where and how of encouraging others. Isaiah clearly explains the four necessary guidelines to offering comfort, and teens can benefit from the following principles:
- "Know how" — Sharing life-changing words with others requires skill that is developed with reliance on God and practice.
- "A word" — Offer a timely word that applies to the situation at hand. Do not badger people with every personal opinion or thought.
- "In season" — Timing is everything! There is a time to confront, a time to encourage and a time to be silent.
- "To the weary" — Conversing with someone who is hostile or arrogant is usually a waste of time. It's essential that input be given when people are receptive.
- Rachel looked for those at her school who were weary, and stories of her kindness flooded in from dozens of students.
Parents can model kindness
Having now spoken to millions of kids through Rachel's Challenge, I'm more convinced than ever that training in kindness and compassion requires more than just talking. As parents we must be an example to our teens and to the people around them. Kids look to parents to:
- model kindness in everyday interactions.
- engage with them in entertainment that teaches kindness and compassion.
- initiate activities that involve the less fortunate.
- pray for them quietly and love them openly.