Teenagers and Empathy: a Lesson Worth Learning!

Teenagers are famous for being self-centered and self-involved. This is an age when the world doesn’t really matter beyond the stretch of one’s own nose. This can very rightly result in a lack of empathy. Most parents feel like they are fighting a losing battle against one of the most self-centered generation so far.

Anyone can hear a very loud and clear example of this self-centeredness in the music this generation is obsessed with. According to psychologist Dr. Nathan DeWall, late adolescents and teenagers of this generation are completely in love with themselves and nothing proves it more than the narcissistic and hostile turn in popular music of today. His hypothesize is based on the frequent use of words “I” and “me” closely followed by anger-related words describing various life situations. People can see a clear decline in the terms “we” and “us” in lyrics and the expression of positive emotions.

So how to teach empathy to teenagers and help them think beyond their own selfish needs? By showing them what “empathy” is and how it can help make them a better person and live a better life. In fact as a parent, you will need them to be empathetic towards you as well. So the sooner they get introduced to the concept of empathy the better. Another reason why it is crucial for teenagers to develop empathic skills is because all positive emotions are a sub-field of empathy and are necessary for bonding and other social skills.

Ways To Teach Teens About Empathy

Do Unto Others: Teens with unmet emotional needs will have a hard time relating to or understanding the emotional needs of others around them. So as a parent embarking on the difficult journey of teaching your child to understand the needs and emotions of others too, you must first validate their own. Show them support in their life and trust in their decisions. Accept and understand their emotional needs to help them grasp the concept of empathy.

Don’t Compare:  Your teenager is an individual in his own right, so don’t compare him with yourself. Just because you are capable of understanding and relating to others does not mean they will be, too. Don’t undermine your teenager or they will become more alienated, and all your efforts to empathize them will be lost.

Be a Model: As bad as it may sound the truth of the matter is that kids are copycats and they mimic when they see us doing. So be a role model and show emotions like sympathy and empathy so your teen can identify with them and eventually feel them as well.

Experiencing the Pain: People find it easy to relate to those who they find similar to themselves. So teach your teenager about the similarities they have with others. Begin with yourself; tell them of your day to day experiences, the emotions you experienced how you handled them. Once your teen is able to identify emotions and learn how to handle them, it will be easier for them to adopt the same. 

These were just a few ways you can turn the “mirrored” self-centeredness of your teenager into a “window-like” self-awareness of others around them. The best way of teaching empathy to children is to show them what it is, by acknowledging the existence of others and understanding their needs and feelings.

Dr. Nathan DeWall has been researching teenage behavior for the past three decades by analyzing the language of the songs made most popular in these three decades

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