Thursday, September 2, 2010

Time To Build More Empathy in Kids

How's this for shocking -- According to a new study of 14,000 students by the Association for Psychological Science, kids who started college after 2000 have 40% lower levels of empathy than kids who preceded them. This was the largest study of its kind to quantify the decline in empathy, and it's pretty scary. No wonder we have this epidemic of youth cruelty and bullying!

Why is this happening? One of the causes, according to Psychology Today bloggers, Bruce Perry and Maia Szalavitz, authors of Born for Love: Empathy, the Brain, and Human Connections, is the fact that kids hardly ever play with each other anymore. "Without unstructured free time with playmates, children simply don't get to know each other very well. And you can't learn to connect and care if you don't practice these things. Free play declined by at least a third between 1981 and 2003 --right when the kids who hit college in 2000 and later were growing up."

Too much time in front of video games, TV's, and other electronic devises is another culprit, according to Perry and Szalavitz. "Even nonviolent kids' TV, research finds, is filled with indirect aggression and linked to increased real-world bullying."

Co-author of the empathy study, Sara Konrath, concurs. Conrath, a researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, said, "The increase in exposure to media during this time period could be one factor. In terms of media content, this generation of college students grew up with video games. And a growing body of research, including work done by my colleagues at Michigan, is establishing that exposure to violent media numbs people to the pain of others."

So what can we do? Modeling and teaching empathy at home and cutting down on time with electronic media would be a good first step. Equally important is getting kids to play and talk with each other more. But beyond that, schools need to do whatever they can to foster empathy, respect, and kindness.

Click here download a free lesson that will help build empathy and conscience. If you're a parent, pass this on to your child's teacher. If you're a teacher, this lesson will help you start your students off with a dose of compassion, and the message that mean words hurt. What else do you think can be done to foster a more compassionate generation of kids? Let us know.

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