In essence, the Internet provides an avenue for individuals to change or present themselves via social media, information consumption, public announcements, and more.
That allows individuals to communicate with one another in real-time without the use of vocal tone or face-to-face contact — two key elements in positive conversation — which makes it significantly harder to use empathy when communicating.
(If you’d like an example of this, just look at anyone’s Twitter feed or a YouTube video’s comment section.)
This means it’s possible for students to grow up making snap judgments about someone’s statements.
That makes it easier for these behaviors to bleed into interpersonal relationships where someone doesn’t behave empathically because they’ve never had to consider others’ feelings in a serious way.
Second, to make matters more interesting, no one really know how Internet-connected devices impacted developing brains until 2012. It’s more than just behavior — screens actually change teens’ brains.
Most notably, teens who were considered “addicted” literally lost some of their brains.
The gray matter of the insula — the part of your brain responsible for empathy — was greatly reduced in individuals who spent excessive amounts of time in front of screens.
Researchers noticed that these same teens exhibited compromised white matter, reduced cortical thickness, impaired cognitive functioning, cravings for screen-related activities, and impaired dopamine function.
By using emotions as the base, these activities piggyback on one another to build empathy-related skills like active listening, showing empathy, understanding someone’s feelings, and even the opposite of empathy.
This last activity is unique in that few (if any) other lessons address what empathy doesn’t look like.
Brookes Publishing approaches this by talking about:
Trying to solve a problem when comforting someone
Offering unsolicited advice
When students can avoid exhibiting these four qualities, Brookes Publishing contends that they’re much more likely to be conscientious and show empathy to others.
5. Start Empathy: Diversity and Respect (Minneapolis Public Schools)
Start Empathy is a program developed by Minneapolis Public Schools to teach students about understanding, respecting, tolerating, and accepting those who think, act, and look differently than themselves.
The program’s second week of instruction focuses on diversity and respect by offering a variety of lessons for students in different grade ranges:
These lessons are hand-tailored to these grade levels to talk about teasing (kindergarten), gender (3-5), use of the word “gay” (middle school), and group favoritism (high school).
All of the individual lessons come from Teaching Tolerance (Tolerance.org), which is another excellent resource that we’ve already mentioned in our list.
Still, the way that Minneapolis Public Schools lays out these lessons is helpful for first-time empathy teachers.
If you’ve ever wondered what you should teach to a specific grade range, this is an excellent document to guide your decision-making.
6. 4 Proven Strategies for Teaching Empathy (Edutopia)