Empathy is a pretty powerful thing and is essential for us to function responsibly in today's society. Empathy is directly related to "theory of mind" which is the capacity to take on another person's perspective. Without this theory of mind, we could never truly be empathic to another's plight. Children don't have theory of mind until about 4 years of age, so we can't expect them to understand or relate to another child's or person's feelings until then. Yet, we can definitely be empathic to our own children's experiences and feelings and also model empathy for them. In fact, the ability of children to embody different characters in play is one of the first steps in developing theory of mind and empathy.
Just as I am pondering this concept and getting ready to give a presentation on empathy to some fellow teachers at UIC in January, I come across this article in the Chicago Tribune. It discusses how today's teens are generally more tolerant of others, but less empathic. Take a read and let me know your thoughts. If this is true, we have some work to do as teachers and parents.
Most tolerant, but desensitized? Today's teens present a thorny contradiction.