Posted: Feb 11, 2014 10:00 AM
 
Teens appear to have a generally whiny reputation these days. Some call them overindulged. Others say they lack empathy and expect others to do things for them. Always, the parent takes the blame. While teens are under different stressors today, it is still important to build empathy.

It's easy for teens to get wrapped up in their own lives and emotions. In fact, the teen years can be characterized by door slamming, yelling, eye rolling and other acts of insensitivity. Some argue that this behavior is par for the course. To some degree, this might be true. Teens are in a unique stage of development and they will work their way through it. Teens often become self-absorbed because they are going through a stage of self-discovery. This does not, however, mean that teens should be excused for lacking empathy. In fact, it's the perfect time to work on teaching empathy. As teens begin to discover who they are, it is also important for them to expand their world views and think about the people around them.

Leave the judgment in another room, parents. The quickest way to shut down your teen is to judge every choice he makes, from friendship to TV shows to that sweatshirt full of holes. The best way to connect with your teen is to be supportive.

Pressure cooker

Teens often feel the pressure of sudden responsibility. From constant reminders about planning for the future to comments like, "Act like a man!" teens experience a significant amount of pressure. If your teen isn't acting like a man, it's probably because he's not a man yet. That's not to say that teens are incapable of responsibility. They can and should have age-appropriate responsibilities.

When teens feel burdened with constant pressure, they tend to separate and become closed-off.

But they should also be allowed to be teens. Try to turn down the pressure as much as possible. When teens feel burdened with constant pressure, they tend to separate and become closed-off. Try empathizing with your teen and sharing your own stories from that time in your life. You just might forge a connection.

Discuss emotions

Discussing feelings and emotions increases empathy. It encourages people to think about others.

Teens are known for keeping their feelings hidden at times, but that doesn't mean that they don't have feelings to share. Cornering your teen and demanding answers probably won't get you anywhere, but getting out and talking while enjoying a favorite activity just might help your teen open up. Ask open-ended questions and be prepared for short answers that will likely lead to more open-ended questions.

Write it out

pencil-and-notebookSome teens really don't like to talk about emotions, but they thrive when writing them down. I would know; I was one of them. My teen years were spent filling journals and writing my mother long-winded letters about everything and anything. It was how we connected.

Parent-teen journals are a great way to connect with teens without forcing the awkward face-to-face conversations that sometimes fall short. Writing your teen a letter and leaving it on his bed when he's at school is another way to get the conversation going.

Emotions can sometimes fall short when sent via text message and email. If you choose to connect through technology, be sure to read everything three times before you hit send. You want your true feelings of support and unconditional love to shine through.

Details matter

If you want your teen to pay attention to others, you need to model that by paying close attention to your teen. Take note of changing friendships, favorite bands, most-watched TV shows and other things that seem to hold great importance to your teen. Get involved. Ask about these topics regularly. Listen carefully to the answers. Teens know when you're dialing it in and only listening with one ear. If you want your teen to learn the art of empathy, you have to start by demonstrating listening and empathy at home.

Help others

When teens learn that they can make a difference on an individual level, they are more likely to pay attention to the well-being of others on a day-to-day basis.

Some high schools require students to participate in community service events. While this is a great way to help teens focus on the larger world around them, meaningful acts of volunteering and charity come from the heart. Participate in family volunteer days or projects to work together to help others. Ask your teen what causes matter to him and start from there. When teens learn that they can make a difference on an individual level, they are more likely to pay attention to the well-being of others on a day-to-day basis.

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