Developing empathy in a social media world

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There has been much conversation and even studies regarding the effect of social media on our ability to show or feel empathy for those around us. So far many of the studies have seen that both cognitive and affective empathy is improved with social media use. (Clinical Child & Family Studies, Utrecht University, Postbus 80140, 3508 TC Utrecht, The Netherlands). After reading several research studies on this subject, with all of them agreeing to this result I had to ask myself if the results were clinical or the real world. In fact, some even reference a “virtual empathy.”

This virtual empathy is seen as a different style of empathy, one that I would term as tolerance by some.  In fact, those that spent more time playing games online saw a decrease in their ability to be empathetic. All of this, however, does not dismiss the fact that when we do have a face to face conversation and there are no emoji’s to be shown we must be able to read a person by their expressions, tone of voice, gestures, etcetera. You may be able to put a smile on a post or comment with a hug, the physical effect of human touch is six times more effective for making the other person feel the empathy of another.

This first week of January at Balanced Life Skills we will discuss empathy with our students, and focus on how to read and understand people’s feelings. Our practice will be with photographs and each other making faces and the rest of us guessing what the emotion is they are feeling. Then we will look at what we might say to a person feeling that way.

Learning to take the perspective of another person helps us to problem solve, resolve conflict and nurture relationships. Without this ability children or adults act in selfish and self-serving ways. As a caring adult in the child’s world, we can help them learn to be empathetic by how we model it for them with others and with them.

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