How to Help Your Teen Cultivate Empathy


how to help your teen cultivate empathyThe teenage years are all about learning lessons. Kids discover who they are and what they want for themselves, but they also build skills they’ll need to live happy lives. Empathy is one of those essential skills parents can help their teens develop. Read this guide to learn how to help your teen cultivate empathy, develop their identities, and form better social connections.

1. Talk About Real-Life Examples

Everyone learns life skills over time. The brain doesn’t reach peak development until the mid to late 20s, so the teenage years aren’t too late for someone to learn about empathy. Your teen might not notice the ability until it becomes obvious. Try pointing out real-life examples whenever you see empathy in action.

You could nod toward the people moving out of the way so a mom pushing a stroller can access an aisle while walking through a store with your teenager. Note how everyone put the mother’s needs first by moving out of her way and how it made her life a bit easier. Your teen will learn how to consider someone else’s emotional well-being with practice and cultivate healthier relationships later on. 

2. Discuss World Events

When you’re watching TV or listening to the WLKY news in the car, ask your teen how they feel about a recent world event and why. Reflecting puts young people more in touch with their own emotions, making it easier to understand someone else’s.

As you learn how to help your teen develop empathy, remember that this effort also puts your young person in touch with their identity. They’ll reflect on how they feel about an event and why, ultimately understanding their own moral compass better outside of their parent’s preferences.

3. Get Involved in Your Community

Connecting with a lived experience you haven’t gone through is challenging. Help your teen learn how to empathize with someone from a completely different life by volunteering in your community. Organizations like Freestore Foodbank in Cincinnati could help your young person recognize how life is different for everyone, but they have the power to help. Donating food and volunteering at the same food bank will show your teen how much their efforts made a positive impact. 

No matter which volunteer causes your teen supports, they’ll feel empowered to help others through extending empathy long-term. It could make them form more social connections later in life because they don’t need to experience something personally to care about another person living through hardship.

4. Create New Goals

Sometimes, empathy requires creativity. Determination is an essential life skill everyone needs. It helps in class settings, work environments and life partnerships. Create occasional situations where your teenager has to work through a new challenge to reach their goal. If you walk them through the process of extending empathy for themselves while they figure out a way forward, your teen will cultivate greater empathy for themselves and others encountering new situations.

Imagine telling your teenager to work their first job over their summer break. That experience challenges them with all kinds of new skills, like interviewing and likely working in a customer service position. As their summer break continues, you can use their experience to reflect on how they’re getting better at their job because they’re giving themselves empathy and time to grow.

5. Shift Their Perspective

You can’t feel for someone else if you aren’t used to asking how they feel. When your teenager complains about someone from school or feels frustrated about a problem with a friend, ask how they would feel if they were that other person. 

It’s an important lesson to note while studying how to help teens cultivate empathy. As you practice asking this question, your young person will instinctively reflect on multiple perspectives while deciding how they feel about a situation or if they should extend someone more kindness than usual.

6. Watch Empathic Stories

Watching a movie with your teenager might not seem like an active parenting exercise, but it depends on what you select. Research shows that people gain empathy by watching others in uncomfortable or tough situations. The next time you have a movie night, pick one that’s on a topic your teen might not have encountered before.

Documentaries are also good resources for this exercise. Learning about societal challenges or historical events puts people in touch with their moral identities. As you figure out how to help your teen develop empathy, try selecting content that teaches them to recognize someone else’s pain and the moral boost they’ll feel by helping them.

Help Your Teen Develop Empathy

When parents want to learn how to help teens cultivate empathy, they might think they’re starting too late to make any difference. The good news is that people can learn empathy at any time. Use these ideas to encourage your teen to be more empathetic to themselves and others. They’ll become well-rounded adults who do well in life because they know how to extend kindness, understand themselves and be a force of positive change.


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