Do Teens Lack Empathy?

By: Halie Holland

Teenagers in today’s in society are greatly lacking in their ability to display sensitivity towards their peers. They frequently find it difficult to see things through someone else’s perspective. Teens often say words and phrases that can be perceived as offensive. Jokes said often fall in the lines of sensitive issues such as mental illness, disabilities, sexuality, and various disorders.

Personally, I’m living with mental illness and an unfortunate home life, and I can honestly say that it is quite challenging to communicate my feelings with my peers without receiving judgment and lack of attention or concern.

Even staff members at school lack empathy towards their students. You would think that teachers, who selected a profession that involves working with kids, would be understanding and want to support their students, but that isn’t always the case. Teachers most often assume that a student is lazy and irresponsible when they don’t do their homework or seem inattentive in class. They don’t consider that there would be a greater issue at home.

In my high school years, I have constantly heard people say, “ugh, go kill yourself” and “sorry, I just stroked out” like they are funny. Why is this important? High schoolers are old enough to know that these are serious and life-altering issues/events. It’s not okay to use sensitive issues as jokes, especially when you’re in a building with people who could have been or currently are dealing with those things. It is best to avoid making things worse for others by keeping inappropriate thoughts to yourself.

There is a reason teens might be so unempathetic. Their “cognitive empathy” and “affective empathy” are still being developed during these teenage years. Cognitive empathy is the desire to recognize and understand someone else’s emotional state. Affective empathy is the phase resulting from emotional illness. It is our desire to respond fast and effectively to another’s emotions.

So, is it fair to call teens out as selfish beings when they haven’t fully developed empathy? I believe in a way they are responsible for their words, actions, and reactions. However, considering the words they use and how they will affect others will light a path to be a more empathetic person. Everyone’s feelings are valid and deserve to be heard and supported.

“Together with open conversations and greater understanding, we can ensure that attitudes for mental health change and children receive the support they deserve.” -Kate Middleton



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