Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Empathy in Children and Teens

As we go through life, we learn many different lessons and things that we may forget. However, we also learn things that are imperative if we are to become good, well- rounded adults. One of the first things any of us need to learn is empathy.

Empathy is generally learned during this first two years of life. As infants, we bond with a nurturing caregiver and this helps us establish trust. This nurturing figure is there for us and a bond is set. As we get older we learn different things hurt us physically and mentally. We also learn that these same things can hurt others around us and we understand this because we know what it feels like to be hurt. This helps us build trust and learn to form positive relationships, as we grow older. Society sets rules and boundaries and we learn to live within them and with each other. If we do not have a nurturing figure in our infancy, we learn mistrust and do not understand the concept of what hurts me will hurt you. As a matter of fact, any feelings for anyone else or even oneself may not exist. As a result, rules are not obeyed and boundaries are never set. Many times, childhood bullies are not learning trust nor are they being nurtured as they should be and will grow up without regard for rules or boundaries of others.

Children are in the early stages of learning empathy. They are learning trust and their needs are being met by the nurturing and trusting figure in their lives. It is usually before the age of 10 where they are still learning right from wrong and need a lot of direction. As a result, some children are picking bullies for friends or following them. Those children who try to stop bullying early on have a grasp on right from wrong and know it well. Their empathy level is probably high. Between the ages of 10-13, knowing right from wrong is coming to form and crucial. If children have not learned trust or empathy before these years, chances are their knowing right from wrong is skewed. (This is why many times these children hurt animals and do not care about how it affects the animal). Children who do have empathy but follow bullies know that this abuse is wrong. However, they also allow fear to take over here and follow these abusers. Inside, they feel terrible and cannot face the one they torment. As the bully never learned trust or was nurtured properly, right or wrong will be what they believe is right and wrong and not what actually is right and wrong. As a result, they cannot empathize when someone is hurt or going through a difficult time. Also, they do not learn trust so in relationships they are detached running in and out of others lives without a thought or care. Any pain they inflict upon another person is something that they cannot understand or register.

As teens, we start to see these bullies break the law, manipulate to get what they want and use charm and charisma to bring others into their fold. As they never learned about nurture or trust, they cannot comprehend how others feel or are affected. During the crucial years of grasping right from wrong, they were setting their own standards for what is right and wrong and not following what society has outlined. This leads to many rules broken, boundaries crossed and people seriously hurting others.

Empathy allows us to feel. It allows us to coexist with others who are different than we are. We can rejoice when our children make good grades and comprehend their feelings when they are in pain. Our friendships grow and thrive as we support one another in a healthy manner through empathy. It allows us to stand by our spouse when the going gets tough and care for elderly parents in their twilight years. Most importantly, it allows us to know ourselves and live a normal healthy existence. However, to achieve this, we must learn empathy during childhood and the teen years. If there is no empathy, the person pretty much ceases to exist. That can lead to dangerous problems down the road for all involved.

No comments: