How to Help Teens Practice Empathy

Empathy is arguably one of the most important skills for all of us to develop. For teens especially, understanding how others are feeling is essential for their social and emotional growth. Practicing and exemplifying empathy during the teen years helps your child to reflect on their own behavior, and how it affects those around them. Here are a few ways for you to help your teen develop empathy.

Encourage Reflection 

The best way to develop empathy is to reflect on real-life experiences. Whether it’s looking back at at time they practiced empathy, thinking about someone who went through something tough and reflecting on how they may feel, or even pointing out fictional stories that call for empathy, this is an easy way to encourage your teen to think about their feelings and the feelings of others.

Model Empathy Yourself

Teaching your teen to be empathetic without practicing it yourself isn’t going to be effective. Believe it or not, your teen does look to you and learns from your behavior. So don’t only have the discussions about empathy, but actually put it into practice. This also shows them real, authentic situations that call for empathy, and how it’s beneficial. 

Openly Discuss Emotions

To understand how your teen feels about others, encourage them to discuss their emotions. Talking about feelings can be difficult, especially when you’re a teen, and you’re talking with your parent. It’s helpful to ask specific questions such as, “how did you feel when this happened to this person?” or “how do you think they might feel?” Emotions are complex, and it can be hard to unpack them, but the more you discuss them with your teen, the better they’ll be able to identify their own emotions as well as the emotions of others.

Focus on Real Actions

In addition to talking about empathy, try asking your teen how they would put it into practice. What solutions might they implement to solve a problem? How could they react in an empathetic way? Turning these discussion points into actionable items helps teens to put everything you’ve talked about into practice.As you work on empathy with your teen, try to practice it yourself. And never forget what it was like to be their age. Growing up is a challenge for everyone, so be patient with your teen, and help them discover the benefits of being empathetic. And if you or your teen needs a little help, check out our virtual social and emotional learning workshops, where we teach both teens and adults the skills they need to build empathy, and unlock the best within ourselves.