Since 1979 there’s been a quiet epidemic proliferating in the crop of kids that followed Generation X. It’s not a devastating cancer or a sedentary tendency. It’s a deficiency. An empathy deficiency.
In a University of Michigan study, analysts found that college kids today are less likely to look at situations from another point of view and more likely to focus on their needs above others. And it’s gotten worse. Since 2000, they’ve seen 40 percent drops in empathy compared to counterparts from 30 years ago.
Startling, yes. But they see a couple sensible factors that have brought the problem to a head.
First, college kids today have been told since childhood how special, unique and perfect they are in a push to boost self-esteem. Second, social media increases the ease of “turning off” friends when dealing with their problems seems like a big bother.
Luckily, there are ways to snatch your offspring from the no-empathy zone and help them become cool, kind and compassionate kids.
1. Start now. Kids are never too young to learn kindness, and they’re more receptive than we realize. Encourage toddlers to be gentle and sweet with toys.
2. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Most kids, toddlers especially, need lots of encouragement and reminders to fully grasp a concept.
3. Don’t be the doormat. Don’t let kids spit in your face or grab your hair. Ever. Gently, but firmly tell them they may not continue with the behavior and never laugh, which can encourage them in the doing of such deeds.
4. Don’t reward them for being kind. When kids think they’re only being nice for a reward, it undermines the human compassion of the act.
5. Switch it up. When kids can’t grasp why what they did was mean, ask them how they would feel if the roles were reversed. Once they feel those feelings, they’ll be less likely to hurt people in the future.
6. Esteem only comes before respect in the dictionary. Don’t focus on building your kid’s ego. Their needs, wants and desires should not always come before others’.
7. Stand firm. Once you’ve decided on your compassion canon, regulate at all times. Even on their birthdays, make sure kids know it’s still important to be kind.
8. D.I.Y. Don’t expect teachers, counselors, grandparents or babysitters to teach your children to be nice. It’s your job.
This post was originally published in 2010 and is updated regularly.