Empathy and understanding
Our teenagers need loads of empathy and understanding. Now more than ever, it is so important to listen with empathy to our teens. It’s also important to understand the difference between sympathy and empathy, as being sympathetic won’t cut it in this context.
When we show someone sympathy, we’re saying: “I care about you and don’t like seeing you feeling this way. So, let me problem-solve so that I can get you out of whatever situation it is that is making you feel this way.” When we sympathise and problem-solve, we think we’re helping our teens but they experience it as “Your emotions are making me so uncomfortable that I can’t stand feeling this way so I need to fix things for you”.
Empathy, on the other hand, sends the message that, actually, “I know you so well that I can put myself in your shoes and totally understand (and can handle) your feelings no matter how intense they are.” Empathy can therefore be really powerful to show another person that we really get who they are and how they feel. This means they can feel safe enough to express themselves, no matter how intensely.
For our teens in those moments of intense emotion or behaviour, we can say something like: “It really sucks that this year is such a mess for you now. Even though you will get through this, I know that it is miserable and awful right now. I hate that you can’t do what you planned to do”.