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Challenge: Open Discussion

Undermining our Children's Development of Empathy

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The increase in time at home with our families during the pandemic means our kids are even further exposed to the choices made by adults in their households. Children don’t just learn from teaching and emulating their role models; they learn from the media they consume from television, radio, and the internet—and conversations they overhear. The political division we have sewn, and our frequent discussions about it when kids are in earshot, have taught some children—at a very early age—that a lack of empathy is the way of the world.

Of course, children have their own minds and develop their own political opinions as they get older (look at Claudia Conway, for instance), but this goes far beyond politics. It gets down to the ethical and moral codes we are instilling in our children. What we deem as acceptable behavior from others teaches our kids lessons about right and wrong, and the consequences of certain actions.

We want our children to view societal ills like sexual assault as absolute wrongs. We want them to value honesty and integrity. We want them to learn how to discount rumors and innuendo and get to the truth. We want our kids to be kind, loving individuals who do not judge people based on their station in life. We want our kids to pray for (or think kindly towards) people who are suffering, and to offer assistance within their reasonable ability. But when they are inundated with messages about identity politics, and wrongdoing as an acceptable means to an end, those lessons are muddied.

We want our kids to respect and enjoy the exchange of ideas and perspectives. But when our societal views are presented in black-and-white terms, literally and figuratively, how do our children learn critical thinking? How do they understand nuance in art, music, literature, and other cultural expressions? How do we teach them opinion vs fact when the former is presented as the latter?

Understanding the value of community is paramount to societal cooperation and robust, healthy communities. It really does take a village to raise a family, but we can’t teach our kids that value unless they comprehend the concept of “I am my brother’s keeper.” We want a kinder, better, more peaceful world for our children, but that future world is something we are creating right now. Are we going in the wrong direction?

So many Americans have a deep-seated rage boiling all the way to the surface. We make judgments about people with no knowledge of them aside from their demographic. Some of us openly take joy in watching others fail, cheering when the voiceless’ voices are silenced. The idea that people deserve the suffering they endure teaches children that others’ pain does not matter—that their experiences don’t matter.

Our children see us fueled by anger, raging against the ideas of friends, neighbors, colleagues, family members, and public leaders. Many marriages have been pushed to the breaking point over a difference of political opinion. Kids see us distancing ourselves from loved ones and respected public servants simply because of a difference of opinion. Through this, they learn to relate only to those who share their ideology. They also learn to dehumanize those who don't.

It would be devastating if the beauty that is—or was—a wonderfully cooperative American society disappeared into an abyss of anger, judgment, and lack of moral fiber. The sense of peace a "live and let live" attitude offers doesn’t have to disappear forever. If we show our children that such a society is part of a life well lived, that sense of peace could be part of their future.

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