RVA Parenting: Teaching kids empathy - NBC12 - WWBT - Richmond, VA News On Your Side

RVA Parenting: Teaching kids empathy

(WWBT) -

Are your kids showing empathy to others, or are they so caught up in their iPhones and iPads that face-to-face interaction is rare? It's a growing concern culturally as we change the way we interact with each other.

Michele Borba is the author of Unselfie. According to her publicist, Borba hopes to start a conversation that our current metrics of success, GPA and resumes, are too narrow and our parenting strategies are outdated.

The result is that we’re unintentionally producing the most narcissistic and stressed-out kids on record, which is up 58 percent in 30 years. Empathy has dropped 40 percent, and our best hope for stopping bullying, racism, violence, and raising successful, happy kids is to fix it. A lot is at stake if we don’t turn this around.

“Because empathy is really the benchmark for not only humanity, for relationships, for health, it has a sizeable phenomenal ability to predict success, and [it] give your kids an economic edge out there in the real live world,” Borba said.

The problem comes from the way we interact by using more social tools than relying on face-to-face conversations or even on the phone. Borba says you can still instill empathy in your children, but you have to be intentional about it.

“Realize that today’s culture is a little different than when we were all growing up,” Borba said. “It is very much of a digital world, and you don’t learn empathy facing a screen.”

Borba’s research indicates the average child is now plugged in 7.5 hours a day and that one-third of our infants are now using iPads, and we’re conveying our emotions by circling emojis.

“What we need to do is put the pause button on and say, 'Hey, the culture is not going to change,',” Borba said. “Yes, we are raising digital natives who would rather text than talk."

Borba says Skype and Facetime are great tools for staying in touch with friends and family so you don’t have to remove technology from your child’s life. She says, more importantly, be intentional about sharing signs of emotional understanding with your child.

“When you’re looking at someone’s face, you’re actually helping your child learn the first habit of empathy, which is emotional literacy. You can’t go, oh my gosh, I need to do something to help this person, unless you go, 'She looks frustrated, or my, he’s sad.' That seems to be a big piece of what’s declining with our children.”

Borba says there are many ways you can use these tools. For example, try this trick with the TV:

“Turn off the sound and just play feelings charades,” said Borda. “What does she feel? Or what does he look like? Or just look at those wonderful children's picture books for the little ones and go, 'How does Sally look? Oh, she does look mad! Make your face look like Sally.' That's the seeds of empathy. Doesn't mean he's going to act empathically but it means he's at least got that heart that's beginning to open up".

In the book Unselfie, Borda talks about the following:

  • 7 Ways to Raise Caring Kids in an All-About-Me Culture: Practical, science-based proven tips 
  • Beating the Selfie Syndrome: 6 ways to flip that lens so kids focus on WE, not ME
  • Beyond Emojis: Fun ways to teach kids to read real emotions to understand other
  • To Make Kids Smarter and Nicer. Chess, reading, watching movies, recess are just a few creative that boost achievement and empathy.
  • Building Kids’ Empathy Muscles: Kids practice music, sports, academics, but not kindness. A family exercise regiment that cultivates empathy habits.
  • Empathy Crisis: 5 signs that empathy is dipping in youth and the danger: At stake: kids health, achievement, and happiness
  • Empathy Is a Verb: Why the most effective ways to activate empathy are real not lectures, worksheets or apps and 7 best ideas I’ve seen in schools & homes
  • GOOD Praise: How to use words that cultivate empathy-not narcissism-in kids
  • How Technology Disrupts Kids’ Emotional Lives: 6 ways to reclaim face-to-face connection in a plugged-In world
  • Raising Changemakers: 6 things parents do to raise kids who make differences

Borba has identified nine science-backed social-emotional habits, emotional literacy, collaboration, perspective taking, moral identity, self-regulation moral courage, etc., to help activate empathy and then practical ways educators and parents can teach them to kids to give them “The Empathy Advantage” so they are more likely to succeed and thrive in the real world. 

If you’d like to learn more about Borda and her work, click here for her website.

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