“Selfie” gained fame as a well-known word in our daily lives. Not only adults, but also more and more preteens and young children take endless selfies upon life’s every moments, which constantly change to display an enhanced version of themselves. They post and share these pictures on social media, chasing after ‘Likes’ and positive affirmation. This has created narcissism and selfishness in the younger generations. So, how can parents deal with such narcissism, and what can they do?
Michele Borba, EdD, author of UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World, suggests that parents teach their children empathy. In her research, Dr. Borba found a 58% rise in self-centered thoughts, aspirations, and actions among American college students during the past three decades. Empathetic behavior declined by 40%.
“The ‘selfie syndrome’ refers to a shift in our overall culture to hyper-individualism. We’ve become more competitive and self-focused. It is all about me, me, and me. Kids used to want to grow up and become something, do something. Now they simply say rich and famous,” explains Michele Borba in her book.
So, how can parents deal with narcissism? The antidote is teaching empathy — the ability to put oneself in another’s shoes while imagining how that person feels. Dr. Borba offers the following nine ideas to combat the growing empathy crisis.
1. Develop Emotional Literacy
In an age of texting, kids fail to recognize facial cues and voice intonation. To understand their own and other’s feelings, they need regular, scheduled, unplugged time. Reclaim the family meal. Put down the cell phone and talk — eye-to-eye and face-to-face. See and hear each other’s expressions and meaning.
2. Make a Family Mission Statement
Create a mission such as to be caring, kind, and respectful to others. Post a sign of this statement or hang it on the refrigerator, so your children see and internalize it every day. Also, parents must practice what they preach.
3. Stay “Other” Focused
Teach your kids to ask: ‘How would I feel as that other person?’ Ask this when you discipline. Ask them when you watch TV. Point to a character who goes through something difficult and ask how do they feel. With time, empathy will become more of an automatic response.
4. Read Good Books
Books with rich moral dilemmas such as Charlotte’s Web, The Little Prince, or Alice in the Wonderland can teach children about empathy. Young adult novels such as Wonder or The Fault in Our Stars can teach empathy as well. In this way, your child not only learns life lessons from books but can learn to love reading, which is beneficial for their brain and mental development.
5. Just Breathe
Kids need to learn how to manage their emotions through self-regulation. Breathing is a way to achieve a more mindful state. It helps to slow down. This can be taught to children, teenagers, or adults by practicing three easy steps together: stop, take a deep breath through the nose and exhale through the mouth, and count to five. Try it when your children are calm. Later when you observe them getting upset, remind them of the three simple steps and do them together.
6. Practice Kindness
Believe it or not, kindness builds from regular behaviors. Simple acts such as holding the door for elders, saying hi to other people, smiling at other children are so easy to practice yet help to build good habits. In addition, nice behaviors produce positive returns. As they get back the kindness they give, children will grow to love being kind.
7. Teach Conflict Resolution
Children can work out their conflicts by:
♦ Learning to calm down (deep breathing, walking away, counting to ten, etc.)
♦ Learning to explain why they are upset
♦ Using discussion to find a resolution or acknowledgment of agreement (a handshake, for example)
8. Stick Your Neck Out
In her book, Dr. Borba describes a technique the Navy Seals use to pass rigorous training tests for challenging situations:
♦ First is positive self-talk such as ‘I’m calm and in control’
♦ Second is to ‘chunk it’ with self-talk such as ‘I can get through the next 5 minutes.’ When those 5 minutes are done, say it again to take small steps toward conquering a problem.
♦ Third is deep breathing, which drives away fear
♦ Fourth is doing a mental rehearsal to visualize success
9. Make a Difference
Parents need to give their kids opportunities to serve, to give back. For example, give your child a specific job, the responsibility to care for a pet, or get involved in family community service projects. Just as important as helping your children to give back is allowing them to follow their own passions and to chase their own dreams.
Opportunities to teach empathy exist everywhere. Empathy can be nurtured throughout children’s lives. Learning empathy is like learning a language or a sport. It requires practice and guidance. Regularly considering other people’s perspectives and circumstances makes empathy a natural reflex. Through trial and error, children get better at tuning into others’ feelings and perspectives. And, it could be the key to a more joyful life.
Empathy — the ability to understand and be sensitive to other people’s feelings — deepens our attachments to family, friends, even strangers. Empathy may well be the greatest gift to our species. Let’s ensure that it stays for many more generations to come.