Once they become teenagers, it’s already too late!
Recently, more than one chilling report surfaced in the news telling the stories of teenage boys raping their schoolmates. To make matters even worse, after these violent acts, they published photos of the incident and led bullying campaigns against the already victimized girls. By the way, the unconscious goal of the bully campaign is that if the world believes that they were prostitutes or in any way responsible for the action, feeling for them is not that painful, or not necessary at all. I don’t buy into this "logic." Rape is unacceptable violence if it happens with anyone, not to mention that these girls were far away from being able to be considered "sluts" as the perpetrators like to depict. The world is shocked and stands unable to comprehend: What was going on in their minds and what can we do against it?
What is missing? Empathy and respect.
Whatever is going in their mind, I cannot tell you. However what is absent is empathy and respect. Empathy is the ability to imagine ourselves in the other’s place, the ability to predict and feel their mental state. One component of it is cognitive, the ability to predict. The other is emotional, the ability to feel their emotion and ensuing pain. Respect is acknowledging and accepting the other’s rights for physiological and psychological well being and the willingness to not violate their rights. Neither of the two belongs to basic emotions. Rather, they are highly developed feelings which require modeling the other persons mind. Their development takes years and years of emotional training.
Newborns have no empathy and respect. Their training in becoming empathetic and respectful adults begins shortly after birth. The very first element of it is showing our empathy and respect to them. In other words, the newborns, babies and small children have to be on the receiving end of empathy and respect. In the first years, we don’t really expect them to experience and express those feelings. Teaching is accomplished by showing them and making them feel that we recognize, acknowledge and understand their wide variety of feelings including frustration and anger towards us. Moreover, we respect their rights to be kept safe, secure and loved.
Around the preschooler age, we begin teaching them that we don’t hit because it causes pain to the others. We share our toys in preschool because other children have rights to the toys as well. Later on, these basic concepts become more elaborate and expand to more areas of life. This exchange of empathy and respect goes day by day, from event to event, with plenty of daily interactions. We show that we understand that they are happy, envious, frustrated and angry or whatever they are. However they are not allowed to hit, throw, take away, push out or hurt their peers.
Here I would like to emphasize that acknowledging and understanding their feeling plays a key role. We don’t have to agree with a feeling to recognize and provide feedback: "I see you are angry because I said no." The point is recognizing and acknowledging their feelings.
The second part of the training: how they can express it in a socially acceptable way comes after that. If everything goes right, we have a fair, considerate teenager. However, they still might have multiple issues with mood, changing shape and identity. Just because we see opposite examples, we cannot deny that there are some nice and kind kids around us.
Where the glitches come from?
It is commonplace that children learn from modeling rather than "telling them what to do!" On the contrary, some old school psychology gave terrible advice to parents to not "spoil" the children. In other words, they were saying not to pay attention to their need of being fed, held, kept close and being comforted. If they rarely experienced empathy, how would they know what it is? How would they learn reciprocity and imagine what the other feels, let alone express it? In this case, the default of what they grow up with is: "Feelings are to be ignored!" Keep Reading...
More parenting advice from YourTango: