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How to Boost Tween Happiness & Popularity? Promote Kindness

Researchers suggest that kind acts yield many positive outcomes.

Feeling good and forming friendships: certainly, these are meaningful goals for people of any age. But for tweens (kids ages 9-12), they can be especially meaningful. During this sometimes bumpy time of transition between childhood and adolescence, close friendships and a sense of well-being are becoming increasingly important.

According to a study published this month in the Public Library of Science open access journal, researchers at the University of California, Riverside found that tweens who perform acts of kindness towards others are not only happier, but also tend to be more popular.

Study Method and Results

Over 400 tweens participated in this study which was conducted in 19 different classrooms. Students were randomly assigned to one of two groups. Every week for four weeks, half of the students were asked to perform three acts of kindness towards anyone they wished. The other half were asked to visit three places they enjoyed – like grandmother’s house, a shopping mall, or a baseball diamond.

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After four weeks, the children were asked to report on their levels of happiness and peer relationships. Researchers found that, while both groups of children experienced an increased sense of well-being from their activities, children who performed kind acts (such as “gave my mom a hug when she was stressed by her job” and “gave someone some of my lunch”) were happier than the group who visited nice places. What’s more, these children also enjoyed greater acceptance by their peers. 

The takeaway message is that performing acts of kindness likely has a variety of positive effects. First of all, doing nice things for others feels good. Second, good feelings promote a sense of well-being. Third, when people engage in “giving” behaviors and feel good about doing them, they may be more likely to treat others with kindness. Last, but not least, these people are more prone to be viewed favorably by others. 

Why This Matters 

The authors of this study suggest that increasing peer acceptance among tweens is an especially important goal because it is not only associated with greater academic success, but also helps reduce the likelihood of being bullied.

They explain, “Our study demonstrates that doing good for others benefits the givers, earning them not only improved well-being but also popularity. Considering the importance of happiness and peer acceptance in youth, it is noteworthy that we succeeded in increasing both among preadolescents through a simple pro-social activity.” 

What You Can Do

This study was conducted in school settings, and the authors encourage teachers and administrators to regularly encourage pro-social activities into the classroom. However, parents and families can benefit from this information, too.

The New Year is an ideal time to make resolutions with your children. This week, consider talking with your kids (of all ages) about what they hope to achieve in the coming year. Be sure to encourage some goals that involve helping others. Maybe you can resolve together to engage in a family volunteering opportunity. Your child might make a commitment to donate outgrown clothing to a shelter or participate in a walk for a cure.

In addition, there are many daily opportunities each family member has to show kindness towards others, like offering words of encouragement and support and being respectful.

If you’re looking for resources to get started, visit: www.DoingGoodTogether.org 

Cultivating an atmosphere of kindness towards others will likely bring all kinds of benefits to your children, your family and your community.       

Happy 2013!

Debbie Glasser, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and speaker specializing in parenting and child development. more...

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