Many adolescents tend to have selfish and self-centered behavior. They return to that phase in which they feel their needs are more important than those of others. If your teenager never asks you how you feel, if you need help, if you’re okay or never considers that others also have needs and problems, it’s time to help teenagers develop empathy.
What is Empathy?
Empathy can be defined as the ability to differentiate between one’s own feelings and those of another person. It’s about being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see things from their perspective, as well as regulating your own emotional responses. Empathy is a primary factor in the development of emotional intelligence.
Some teens or even adults may refuse to help other people in need, not because they lack empathy, but because they may not have the ability to adequately cope with their own emotional reactions to certain situations.
When the Adolescent Lacks Empathy
Teenagers can, with the right encouragement, develop empathetic skills, a very important step in their development as an adult, since it will improve their ability to relate to others. Additionally, they will be developing a very important part of their socio-emotional skills.
An adolescent who does not show an empathetic feeling towards others will be capable of bullying other classmates, may be cruel to animals, may exercise gender violence against his girlfriend, will insult his parents without remorse and will have aggressive tendencies towards those who are not like him.
Dynamics to Teach Empathy to Adolescents
If you think that your teenager does not usually think about the feelings and emotions of others and never puts himself in other’s shoes, it is time to work on it. Empathy, despite being an innate quality in many people, can be taught. Although there are also dynamics to practice empathy in adults. Below are specific exercises to work on with your adolescents. These are the best dynamics:
1. Develop a secure attachment with your teen
It is about reinforcing the bond between parents and children by establishing affective relationships, in which the child perceives affection, love and support. You must, therefore, feel sensitive to their needs, seek physical and emotional contact, take care of their self-esteem and establish a climate of trust in our adolescent children.
When an adolescent’s emotional needs are addressed and met, adolescents are more likely to show empathy and help others who are in distress. As a parent, you can work to develop a secure type of attachment with your child. It is important that you show him that he can count on you when he needs emotional and physical support. Research shows that children who have parents who help them cope with negative emotions in a compassionate and problem-solving manner are more likely to show concern for other children, that is, to be more empathetic.
2. Remember that your child is an independent individual.
Treat your child as an independent person with a mind and interests of his own. Talk about his emotions and help him understand how feelings, desires and emotions can influence behavior. You can teach him to recognize and label his feelings, as well as those he has observed in others, by modeling verbal expression.
For example, when you communicate with your child you can talk about your own feelings, so you will be providing an appropriate language to express emotions. In addition, you can use reflective listening to help him label the feelings of others by asking him questions like “you seem a little angry today, has something happened?” This will help recognize emotions and feelings and the importance of expressing them.
3. Model empathetic behavior and induce sympathetic feelings
As parents, you can take advantage of everyday opportunities to indicate situations in which empathy is necessary. You can generate sympathetic responses in your children. You can use the example of watching a television show to situations asking your teenager how the victim may have felt. By doing this, you’re taking things a step further because you’re not just labeling feelings, you’re also helping to recognize opportunities where you can care about other people’s emotional needs, brainstorming different ways to help.
Parents have to be empathic with others to transmit this teaching. “Don’t do what you wouldn’t like to be done to you”, should be our mantra towards our children, a valuable teaching that conveys empathy. You can even talk to your teenager about situations in which you have found yourself needing to understand or help someone who is having a hard time.
4. Help him put himself in others’ shoes
When teens identify or feel that another person is similar to them, they are more likely to feel empathy for that person. Therefore, one way of how to teach teens empathy is to help them discover what they have in common with other people. In addition, this is very important in a society like today’s where new technologies raise debates on the line that distances the real from the imaginary and there are rarely direct consequences for certain actions. The more you can humanize the victim’s anguish, the more empathy they will develop.
5. Talk to your children
How to teach my teen empathy? The answer is not a simple one, as you already see. Continue to speak to your children. For example, if you are walking with your child and you see a homeless person sleeping in the street, ask your child what he thinks, if he gives you reasons like “if he sleeps in the street, it’s because he wants to” or “they should kick them all out”, it’s time to talk to him of the vicissitudes and difficulties that a person can suffer until reaching that point. Who wants to sleep outside day after day? Ask him how he thinks that person feels, try to put him in the place of someone who, day after day, sleeps on the floor or on a bench. It is important that he performs the exercise of putting himself in the shoes of others. Use everyday examples to achieve this.
6. Do not allow bullying situations.
If you detect or heard that your teenager is bullying or making fun of another child, it is time to address it immediately. Help him understand the situation that the victim may experience. Make him understand the other person’s emotions through reasoning, “how would you like to be treated if you were the new guy”, “what would you feel if every day of your life, someone laughed at you”, or “you would like someone to help you if they are insulting you”.
7. Promote Self Awareness
Self-awareness needs to be promoted. If a teen seems to lack empathy, it will be necessary to help him reflect on his own negative experiences. When a teen assesses why he cares about what someone else might say about him, then he can gain a better understanding of how his actions and words can affect others as well. He should reflect on his own negative experiences and those of others, but it is also appropriate for him to reflect on his positive experiences, so that he can understand how good it is to feel good with oneself and with others.
The Consequences of Actions
Teenagers must be aware that all actions have consequences, and it is something that must be learned through the guidance and teaching of parents. When a teen shows a lack of empathy and consideration for others, it may be because he or she is not showing responsibility for their actions. It is necessary to help the adolescent to recognize the consequences of his own words and actions and to take into account the other person involved in the situation.
Consequences help the adolescent to value the consequences of his actions: when the adolescent shows lack of consideration towards others, he does not usually take responsibility for his actions. Ask him to assess how this attitude affects family, acquaintances, or colleagues.
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