Teens might need practice empathizing with others.

Developing Empathy in Teens

by Kathryn Hatter

Teenagers may seem preoccupied and concerned with internal issues and conflicts. With this common mindset, it could be challenging for adolescents to extend empathy to others. Although teens often turn inward, empathy is not out of their reach. Help youngsters develop empathy by teaching and encouraging an attitude that considers others.

1. Emotional Regulation

A teen will mature gradually to gain a greater awareness of personal feelings and emotions. Along with this personal awareness, the youngster will also begin to realize that friends and peers also experience similar feelings, states extension educator Colleen Gengler, with the University of Minnesota Extension. As a teen learns how to manage feelings, she becomes able to stop and think before reacting. Part of this process also involves empathy, because she considers responses, reactions and motivations of others in relation to specific situations. Emotional regulation enables teens to interact more positively with others.

2. Parental Modeling

The behavioral examples set by parents continue to be important throughout the entire span of childhood, from infancy through the teenage years. When you want your teen to learn and develop empathy, ensure that you model empathy for him to see and learn. Speak respectfully and honestly to everyone. Help other people whenever you can to demonstrate an altruistic attitude. Show concern about how others feel, including your kids. Listen when people express thoughts and emotions and ask questions to understand. Strive to keep your relationships with others positive with regular connection and interaction.

3. Famous Empathetic Examples

Talk with your teen about famous and noteworthy people who set a positive example of empathy, suggests Kathleen Cotton, author of “Developing Empathy in Children and Youth,” published by School Improvement Research Series. People like Mother Theresa, Albert Schweitzer, Martin Luther King Jr. and Jane Goodall have set positive examples of outgoing concern for others and interactive empathy. Discuss traits that each famous person showed that suggest empathy and concern for others.

4. Service Learning

Encourage your adolescent to take on a service project that will inspire empathy. Many schools include service learning projects in curriculum, but it’s possible that children may miss the intended lesson, warns the American Psychological Association. Help your teen select a project that resonates with her interests and personality. For example, a teen who has a strong interest in preserving the environment might involve herself in a community-wide service project with a focus on beautifying and improving community parks. Stay involved with your teen as she works on her project to provide ongoing encouragement and positive feedback.

5. Reinforcing Empathy

Talk with your teen regularly about situations and interactions to encourage and reinforce empathetic behavior. As you hear about conversations or interactions he has with others, call out displays of empathy when you see them. For example, when you hear about your son helping a peer struggling with a bullying situation, provide positive feedback about your teen’s empathetic response to a friend in need.

About the Author

Kathryn Hatter is a veteran home-school educator, as well as an accomplished gardener, quilter, crocheter, cook, decorator and digital graphics creator. As a regular contributor to Natural News, many of Hatter's Internet publications focus on natural health and parenting. Hatter has also had publication on home improvement websites such as Redbeacon.

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