In 2018, Indiana Philanthropy Alliance (IPA) and the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy partnered to host a free 4-part webinar series designed to support next-gen leadership and giving.
The fourth webinar, “Raising Kind Kids through Social-Emotional Learning,” explores research that points to a decline in empathy, as well as how we can work to foster empathy and kindness in youth.
In 2014, IPA became involved in social-emotional learning by developing a curriculum for 3-5-year-olds to teach them about giving their time, talent, and treasure. The curriculum, “Super You: Make the World a Better Place,” used a superhero theme, and incorporated the IPA character “Phil Anthropy.” This direct-youth workshop eventually expanded to partnering with daycare and early-childhood providers through a workshop called “Raising Kind Kids,” aimed at training educators to incorporate empathy and kindness-based lessons in their classrooms
The Decline in Empathy
Dr. Sara Konrath, an expert in the field of empathy at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, has found troubling research: since the late 1970s, empathetic concern has rapidly decreased as narcissism and individualism have increased.
Shifts can be attributed to social media and the rapid changes in technology. However, Dr. Konrath is quick to point out that the decline in social connections and empathetic behavior actually began prior to the onset of social media and therefore cannot be considered the sole contributor. Dr. Konrath actually believes an important cause of the decline in empathy is due to burnout and an overscheduling of our daily lives, leaving less time to recharge through physical activity or hobbies we enjoy.
Why is Empathy Important?
According to Dr. Konrath, “empathy inspires us to want to help others and not harm them.” Empathetic individuals are more like to exhibit behavior such as:
- Increased volunteerism
- More likely to donate to charity
- Willing to help others in need
Empathy also helps us understand one another better, even those with whom we disagree on some important level such as politics or religion. In the classroom, empathetic teachers have positive effects on their students. Students tend to “try harder” and get better grades, and there is a reduction in bullying. All in all, having empathy gives us a better quality of life. We are happier and less stressed.
How Can We Increase Empathy?
Dr. Konrath has worked alongside her research team and with funding from the John Templeton Foundation has produced this free interactive app: Random App of Kindness (RAKi). A mobile-friendly app designed for youth ages 10-17, RAKi has been shown to increase empathy in youth who have engaged with it. Through a series of games, youth learn to pick up on social-emotional “clues” such as facial expressions in determining the feelings of others. Parents, teachers, and youth workers can reinforce the benefits of using the app through these custom activity guides.
An example of an organization working to promote kindness and empathy is Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation. Taylor Parker, who worked alongside Dr. Konrath while a student at the IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, is a “Channel Kindness” reporter for the foundation which focuses on the mental health well-being of youth. By working to actively encourage and report examples of kindness through programs, social media, and strategically reaching out to young people, youth are empowered to show empathy themselves and foster kindness among their peer groups.
Another example of an organization supporting social-emotional learning is the Greater Good Science Center (GGSC) at the University of California-Berkeley. Jason Marsh and Maryam Abdullah shared how GGSC equips individuals with research-based skills; brings a trusted, inclusive voice; and empowers people to become agents of change. In an effort to support parents wishing to foster empathy amongst their children, GGSC has created this guide: Greater Good Parenting: Raising Courageous, Caring Kids. Three tips to support social-emotional learning and encourage youth to think beyond their own needs for the benefit of the greater good include:
1) Foster purpose (encourage youth to reflect on what they are good at, what they enjoy doing, and how they might leave their mark on the world).
2) Grow gratitude (encourage youth to recall daily positive experiences, make note of it, explain what they think caused the event).
3) Cultivate compassion (encourage youth to think of a time they felt a strong bond and spend a few moments writing about it).
Empathy, kindness, and the ability to show compassion are important traits that must be nurtured, especially as our world evolves into a more technologically-advanced society with less physical interaction. As today’s youth increasingly rely on social media and technology to communicate, it is important that we find ways to reinforce empathy and kindness if we wish for them to live in, and pass along, a kinder world.
A full recording of this webinar along with the resources shared can be found on the IPA website.
Join IPA for our next youth philanthropy webinar, “Growing Lifelong Philanthropists,” on December 3.
For breakfast, I had a hard-boiled egg with sriracha salt, greek yogurt with fruit, and decaf coffee.