Character Making News: Teens Showing Empathy
Why Empathy Matters
How often has putting yourself in someone else’s shoes shifted or changed your perspective? Did it spark acts of kindness or compassion you might not have performed otherwise? Think about those moments and how they benefited you and those around you.
According to Greater Good Science Center, empathy is “the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling.” This is an essential character strength for young people to develop and carry into adulthood. Connecting on an empathetic level and acting with compassion is “critical to our lives, helping us to get along, work more effectively, and thrive as a society.”
Empathetic Teens in the News
Most acts of empathy don’t make the news but matter just as much in building your child’s values. We rounded up some of our favorite news stories in which young people across the country show their empathy and compassion:
Fueled by empathy, two young athletes showed a moving display of sportsmanship at a Little League World Series game in Texas. After Isaiah Jarvis took an accidental hit to the head, he paused the game to console the visibly upset pitcher who hit him. The two players embraced before returning to the game, showing the crowds watching — at the ballpark and home — that young people can be shining examples of empathy and compassion.
Parents and teenagers at a Colorado high school teamed up to uplift a disappointed local sixth-grader who couldn’t get any signatures for his school yearbook. A group of 11 teens empathized with the boy after hearing his story from their parents and visited his school the next day to take turns filling out his yearbook. “It just made me feel better as a person,” he said of the compassionate action. “It just makes me feel better on the inside.”
A pre-schooler in Alabama considers empathy his superpower. Austin Perine uses his weekly allowance to buy food and drinks for people experiencing homelessness in his community. Accompanied by his father and dressed in his superhero cape, he distributes the meals with a reminder to “show love” to every person he meets.
A go-getting summer project turned into a way to help people down on their luck for Shane Jones. After winning his first storage unit at an auction, Jones empathized with the person who lost their treasured personal belongings. The teen then arranged to return the storage unit to the original owner’s family rather than selling it for profit. And he didn’t stop there. Jones continues to reunite repossessed storage units with their original owners. “These people didn’t choose to give me this stuff,” says Jones. “They didn’t have a choice. It’s almost like a duty to give it back.”
When Matthew Geiling saw the news of the war in Ukraine, empathy and compassion led him to take action. The New York teen organized a fundraiser, arranged emergency packages with the U.S.-based organization Ukraine Friends, and eventually volunteered at the Ukrainian border. “Seeing people lose their homes and their loved ones — there’s something human about that. I think it’s just my human instinct to help out in any way I can.”
17-year-old Kieran Moïse’s empathy led him to raise more than $38,000 for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital and donate 19 inches of hair to Children With Hair Loss. Moïse lost a middle-school friend to cancer and wanted to help other teens and families in treatment.
A San Diego teen was rewarded for his empathy after finding a woman’s purse in a parking lot and delivering it to her door. The 17-year-old, Adrian Rodriguez, empathized with the purse owner and chose to do what he would have wanted someone to do for him if he were in a similar situation. Once the story made it to social media, people from across the country donated to his GoFundMe campaign, building up a total reward of $17k for Rodriguez’s act of kindness.
Nurturing Empathy in Teens
As our own Dr. Ken Ginsburg says, “One of the most genuinely respectful things a person can do is strive to understand another person’s point of view.” Teens can learn empathy firsthand from parents and caring adults when they show they are working to understand what their young person is going through. When parents appreciate and acknowledge their child’s thoughts and emotions, they can help nurture their child’s empathy for others. One of the best ways to teach and promote character traits like empathy is to be a role model for your teen.
Character Development in the Teen Years
Character development is an important part of adolescence. When young people develop core values and morals, they are in a better position to become healthy, happy, and thriving adults. People with strong core values tend to make the most significant contributions, have the best sense of self, form the most secure relationships, and more.