When I read recently that a group of Greenwich High School students had started a Greenwich Compliments page on Facebook, I was intrigued and immediately looked up the page. As of today, hundreds of Greenwich young people from all the high schools in town had signed on as "friend." Their compliments, naturally, focus on fellow students, and I was delighted to see this positive movement in our town.
Not only can this site bring students together, it can become a positive influence in bringing our community with its diverse economic and ethnic groupings together
I have advocated a policy of "a compliment a day" ever since I interviewed mothers and daughters when writing "Don't Stop Loving Me" and sensed an intense desire in both mother and daughter to be appreciated.
A sincere compliment is the kindest gift to give to a person. Most mothers are proud of their daughters but daughters told me that their mothers always seemed to be criticizing them, their hair style, their friends, their eating habits, and everything else.
Nothing can be more demoralizing than criticism. A compliment may even be a simple "thank you" for clearing the table, filling the dishwasher, helping with a sibling. A "Thanks for helping me out" can go a long way in making someone, especially an insecure young person, feel better.
A teen's habits may frustrate a mother, and she may have to search for something nice to say but the searching is worth the effort.
And the compliment should always be in the first person. "I like the way that shirt brings out the color in your eyes," is more effective than saying "You look good." A daughter may respond to "You look good" by immediately denying that she does look good. However, when the compliment is in the first person, the girls told me, they are less inclined to deny their mothers' feelings.
The effects of a compliment-a-day can change attitudes and perhaps help end the frequent arguing that can arise among family members. How easy it can become to complain to children about unmade beds, messy rooms, not helping enough. Complaining sometimes comes quicker to the tongue than complimenting. And that negative attitude can extend outside the family to their friends.
The interchanges that teens observe within the home frequently become their norm for communication outside the home. Those nasty put-downs that some teenagers project on each other can become habitual and have serious consequences on the victim.
Although a girl (or boy) may think it is phony to pay a compliment, she knows how she feels when someone appreciates the good work or effort she has put into something.
By showing appreciation, offering a simple "thank you" or complimenting another's style ("I like your shoes!"), she will make others feel good about themselves.
Feeling good is contagious.
And then when all the children are adults and there is no one left to compliment (or complain about) in the house, the compliment-a-day custom can be applied to a spouse. Sometimes spouses become so used to each other or habits become so engrained that they don't take notice of each other as they used to. Imagine the nice surprise when one of them suddenly tells the other how great they are or how good they look.
So, congratulations to the students who started Greenwich Compliments.
They have inspired all of us to look at the good side of each person and focus on that, rather than on the supposed negative side.
We adults thank you and will try to follow your lead.
Ann Caron is an educational psychologist and has written books about parenting adolescents.