Teaching Forgiveness to Youth

The other day, a sensitive and caring sophomore-year teenager I’m treating called me after school. She had hurt someone else’s feelings, and the other girl (a senior) became angry with her. The sophomore apologized, and the senior told her to “shove it.” She called me almost in tears, asking how else she should apologize to make sure she can fix her mistake. I asked how she apologized, and knowing her, she did it kindly, softly, and vulnerably. My response was that she can let go of the guilt she associated with what she did, forgive herself for the mistake, and allow the senior some time to heal. Forgiving herself also allowed her to forgive the senior who publicly embarrassed her.

When you or anyone else show compassion and/or forgiveness, it does not mean that you absolve the other person from wrongdoing. On the contrary, they are still held accountable for their actions. However, it’s important to note the difference between compassion and forgiveness. Forgiveness means letting go of the anger and resentment toward someone or something. Compassion is a frame of mind. It’s a mindset that all people express, even over a small painful moment, in order to be eased from their pain.

Explaining the concept of compassion and forgiveness can be difficult, applying them even more so. But we can explain to our kids that it’s okay and that it’s possible for kids (and adults) to have conflicting feelings such as dislike, embarrassment, disconnection, rejection, isolation, love, compassion, and forgiveness. Positives and negatives can co-exist at the same time.

If your son/daughter is a bully, it would be easier to explain compassion to them. If he/she is the victim, forgiveness and accountability would be an easier topic. Nonetheless, they could, over time, be able to understand (or try to understand) compassion and forgiveness by thinking of the situation from the other side of the fence – by thinking of the bully or victim as hurt persons.

With both compassion and forgiveness, we understand that the person who hurt us is fully responsible for their actions. We certainly don’t justify their actions. However, compassion is about recognizing that we are all human beings. And before any compassion and forgiveness to others comes self-forgiveness which can be the most challenging of all. For us as parents, teachers, friends, and relatives, being relentlessly positive and supportive to our children will help them feel positive and empowered about themselves and be able to self-forgive.

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