Parenting Boys: 4 Tips to Teach Empathy

As an avid researcher, when I detect a shift or change in adolescent behavior, I dig in with the goal of determining the cause.  Naturally as the facilitator of The Quest Project-A Modern Day Rite-of-Passage program for adolescent boys my observations are “real time and accurate!”

My Observation

I’ve detected a decrease of empathy in boys.  I contribute the decrease to a number of things; here are just a few:

  • Parents shielding their son from tragedy (anything that may cause sadness).
  • Absence of volunteerism to help others (mowing a lawn, serving a meal at a homeless shelter etc.).
  • Not allowing him to see/observe feelings of someone who is sad.

I’m not suggesting that you fill him up with sad and depressing news, but I am suggesting not to shelter him so that he has no exposure to the consequences of bad choices, and at times merely life in action.

As parents we try hard to make sure our kids have “what we never had,” or “have what they want so they’re never sad.”  If you’re divorced, you work especially hard to be positive and happy so the kids aren’t sad; you feel like you’re making up for the failed marriage.  I get it, I understand but it’s not the answer.  Acknowledge and allow for the feeling of feelings, it’s the healthiest way to process them; to grow and have the ability to move on.  The same goes for your kids!

Empathy Is Taught

Empathy is the experience of understanding another person’s condition from their perspective. You place yourself in their shoes and understand what they are feeling. Empathy is known to increase pro-social (helping) behaviors and lower aggressive behaviors.

Four easy suggestions to teach empathy:

  1. Modeling-modeling good behavior starts with you! Your attitude, demeanor and expressions define what your son copies.
  2. Active listening-that’s 100% of your attention!  When your son is expressing himself (they rarely do!) pay attention and listen intently.
  3. Teach-teach him how feelings and behaviors affect others; display empathy yourself.
  4. Volunteer-there are an abundance of organizations that not only welcome but need volunteers; get involved and let him see first-hand how to help others.

I’m Doing My Part

Over the last few years, I have begun to offer graduates of The Quest Project the opportunity to volunteer at my garden, Charity PatchCharity Patch is a not for profit urban garden that provides fresh produce to local food pantries.  Each summer we identify ten young men to volunteer; and every Saturday we have at least six of the ten in the garden for 4 hours!

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The boys work hard and they do it to help those less fortunate.

Let’s all do our part to reinforce empathy, it’s feeling and caring; it’s heart and very important!


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