Parents, you can be part of the solution to end bullying, selfishness, and narcissism!  Raising empathetic adolescents takes effort.  But,  we can teach strategies that lead to empathy.   Teens and tweens, who understand others, benefit our society.  And, our children benefit thanks to the “Empathy Advantage.”

The Problem

News stories frighten me!  There is too much bullying, selfishness, competition, narcissism, and downright evil.  Why is this happening?  Some would say that it is due to a lack of empathy.

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Lack of empathy can be caused by:

  1. Social Media –  Social media takes the place of face-to-face conversations where it is necessary to read body language and emotion.  And, there is a pressure to perform/pose for likes and admiration in the comments.
  2. Selfishness –  Part of growing up is to see the world from a wider, less self-centered perspective.  Yet, our culture worships our own – possibly immature or ignorant – perspectives.  It is hard to care for others when one is focused on oneself.
  3. Increased competition – Increased competition can lead to putting others down to feel better about oneself.  This attitude manifests itself in the form of bullying.  Competition may also lead to less cooperation and lower moral reasoning. These conditions drive the desire to cheat to get ahead!

In her book, *Unselfie:  Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in our All About Me World,  Michelle Borba claims, “While we may be producing a smart, self-assured generation of young people, today’s kids are also the most self-centered, saddest, and stressed on record.”

Maybe I just like the alliteration, but this sentence stood out and terrified me!  What are we to do?

The Solution: Empathy

After reading Unselfie, Borba gives me hope that we parents (and many teachers) can raise children who can change the world!

Borba states, “Empathy is what lays the foundation for helping children live one essential truth: We are all humans who share the same fears and concerns, and deserve to be treated with dignity.”

We can teach our adolescents to:

  • Tune into other people
  • Love others by being kind
  • Love others by standing up for them
  • Make a difference!

Not only will the world be better, but our children will be better, healthier citizens as a result of the “Empathy Advantage.”

What is Empathy?

Essentially, empathy is the ability to understand the feelings, thoughts, wants and needs of another person. When we put ourselves in another person’s shoes, we are less judgmental and more likely to seek peace.

The “Empathy Advantage”

Unselfie introduces the concept of the “Empathy Advantage.” Borba’s research shows that children with this advantage “are happier, more resilient, less stressed, better adjusted, and score higher in math and reading.”

Basically, your adolescent is more likely to experience happiness due to better health and relationships!

Empathy leads to happiness due to better health and relationships! Click To Tweet

We Must Teach Empathy

Our youngest daughter periodically gives all her “spend” money away. Her P.E. teacher asked her to help the students with special needs participate in class by: holding their hands and encouraging them to run, repeatedly throwing the basketball to them, and teaching them social skills such as using a tissue and washing hands after they’ve gone to the restroom. She loves books like *A Long Walk To Water  and *I am Malala.  I thought my tenderhearted daughter was just wired that way.

But, I was completely blown away by Borba’s assertion that empathy is a skill that can be taught and strengthened through practice! These empathy strategies should be taught in parenting seminars, schools, churches, and other community organizations!

Empathy is a skill that can be taught and strengthened. Click To Tweet

Scientific research shows the importance of teaching empathy skills. The studies warmed my little research-nerd-heart and, in complete transparency, may have signaled the release of tears!  Parents, there is hope that we can teach our children to be empathetic!

According to Borba, “the most effective strategies are meaningful experiences that touch kids’ hearts with a caring adult close by.” These strategies for teaching empathy are embedded in nine habits she recognizes.

Create empathy through meaningful experiences with a nearby compassionate adult. Click To Tweet

Can you teach empathy to your teen or tween?
Little girl in Belize image

9 Habits of Empathetic Children

Borba recommends practicing one habit a month to develop the skills. Honestly, this may be a little awkward with adolescents. I’d recommend that you start with observations and discussions through interactions with people, social media, and even the news.

Develop Empathy

Habit 1: Emotional Literacy – Recognize the feelings of others.
Habit 2: Moral Identity – Develop an ethical code.
Habit 3: Perspective Taking – Learn to walk in another’s shoes.
Habit 4: Moral Imagination – Read to cultivate empathy.

Practice Empathy

Habit 5: Self Regulation – Manage strong emotions.
Habit 6: Practicing Kindness – Develop kindness.
Habit 7: Collaboration – “We” vs. “Me”

Live Empathetically

Habit 8: Moral Courage – Stand up for others.
Habit 9: Altruistic Leadership Abilities – Make a difference.

In each chapter, Borba details strategies to teach the habit. The following are some basic habits that pervade the book:

  • Eat together most nights. Recognize and discuss feelings with face-to-face interactions.  Boys need this experience, too! Discuss family issues and real-world issues.
  • Read books and watch movies together. Observe and discuss the characters’ experiences and how that affects their points of view.
  • Expose your child to different races, cultures, ages, languages, and socio-economic statuses.
  • Practice kindness.
  • Serve others as a family, in the community, and in the world. Don’t make it a one-time event, but a regular part of your life.

Book Structure

Each habit is fleshed out fully in its own chapter:

  • A study or observation reflects the use of the habit.
  • Struggles in developing the habit are discussed.
  • Scientific research demonstrates the importance of the habit
  • “Age by Age Strategies” for teaching and practicing each skill are suggested.
  • The “Top Five Things to Know” summarizes each chapter.

Unselfie is a difficult book to read straight through. Although my love affair with research-based principles was gratified, I recognize that some people want to jump straight into the “what to do” section.

The book is arranged very well for a reader who wants to jump around and skim.  “The Top 5 Things to Know” shares the main concepts. And, the “How to Help” section and “Age by Age Strategies” guide you to take action immediately.

Ultimately, Unselfie is an excellent reference book due to the important empathy building strategies and easy to use organization. Purchase this book to refer to the habits and skills as your youth grows.

Final Thoughts

Unselfie is not a Biblically based book. Yet, the call to “love one another” is at the heart of empathy.

In the 2017 movie version of *Wonder Woman, Diana’s empathy and love for others demonstrates her courage. Despite the evil, she stands up for those who cannot stand for themselves.  And, she inspires others to join her.  Empathy is her strength.  Yes, this movie is fictional.

However, increased empathy in our nation could lead to a joining of hearts to create change. My goal is to raise empathetic Change-makers! And, Unselfie by Michelle Borba provides the tools for teaching empathy.

Parents, did you know that empathy can be taught? In the comments below, please celebrate your empathetic adolescent! I’d love to hear encouraging stories!

Guatemala Children

To cultivate empathy, consider reading the following books.  Thank you for supporting this site by clicking on the picture to use my affiliate link.

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