Monday, December 7, 2020

Book Review: The Empathy Advantage

I am so behind in life, I haven't felt well, and I feel like I'm constantly scrambling to get things done. I don't know if it is just because it is December so its naturally busier or if Covid is sending me over the edge. It's probably both. Sigh. 

The Empathy Advantage - Lynne Azarchi

Children have always bullied, but now with social media, bullies have a platform where the message's reach is exponential - a single post can shoot out humiliation well beyond the schoolyard fence and go viral. Racism and hate have always existed, but the arc that once bent toward greater tolerance is today pitting races and religions against one another. Empathy is a first step toward addressing any of these problems. Best of all, it is a gift from parent to child that's free and lasts a lifetime. Buying iPads and expensive clothes means nothing compared to giving kids the tools to grow up to be understanding, caring adults who not only have friends, but are themselves great friends. Also, they will make better co-workers, spouses and parents. Empathy, simply, is the ability to "walk in someone else's shoes." Its value surpasses school subjects like reading and math in many respects. Research shows that children with empathy perform better in school, have lower rates of substance abuse, are less likely to show racial or religious prejudice, and do better later in life. Empathy also translates into better "people skills" - vital for team building, school, jobs, and success in life overall. In other words, teaching empathy is no luxury. It's a necessity. Unfortunately, it's one that parents have no choice but to take on themselves. Schools often are disinterested in teaching social-emotional skills, have other priorities, or simply lack the resources. Years ago, the common wisdom was that empathy could not be taught. But after more than 16 years as Executive Director of the Kidsbridge Tolerance Center in suburban Trenton, New Jersey, I know it can be taught - and have the evidence to back it up (Kidsbridge is the only evidence-based center solely for youth in the United States). I've taught it to more than 25,000 students and educators. Through Empathy Bridge, I can teach empathy to parents, too. This book is a guide for even the busiest of parents (and educators as well). 
I signed up for this one months ago and then I forgot about it. When it came school was already in session and I had friends struggling with their children being back in school again. It's like a few months off had turned them feral or something. I know mine were so excited to just see people so we didn't really have any issues but of course, we are now in virtual school again so anything could happen. 

As a parent my goal has always been to raise kind kids. Sure, being smart is handy, being athletic is cool until you graduate college and then what? Being popular isn't all that, but you know what lasts you forever? Kindness. 

Kindness and having empathy, and caring about people in general, will take you so much further in life than anything else. We think it is easy to teach our children to not be a jerk and, in a way, that's kind of true. But sometimes it isn't, and if we weren't necessarily taught that but are learning it as we go, how do you teach a small child what you weren't taught? 

Thankfully Lynne Azarchi takes us through this in easily digested chapters that you can refer to for each stage of growing up. I loved that she spreads data from different age groups and different studies and while some of the statistics are an eye-opener, as parents we need to hear it. You can't fix what you don't acknowledge, right? 

The book begins with the science of empathy and talks about it in a biological sense and then she moves into what we can do about it. The chapter on social media highlights that the area of the brain where empathy hangs out is affected by the length of time spent on social media but also the content that they are seeing. No matter the age of your child(ren) there is a section for you; the author has divided teaching tips into infant to three years, three to six years, elementary, middle, and high school years. Don't feel that your time for teaching empathy is over if you are in a house full of teenagers, there is still plenty you can do! 

Overall? I really enjoyed this book. I would have liked a more in depth section involving racism and LGBTQ+ issues considering those are at the forefront of a lot of our social discourse. The sections may not be critically in depth but they do provide a springboard for going further into conversations with your child(ren). Just like the What to Expect When You're Expecting books, this is one you can refer to for years to come because parenting changes with every season and age. Just when you think you have it figured out they want to shave their head and drop out, am I right? 

A huge thank you to TLC Book Tours for having me on this tour, but also to Lynne Azarchi and Rowman & Littlefield Publishers for providing a copy for review. If you know a parent who is struggling right now, or maybe you are wondering how to get your child to be kinder to others, I highly recommend this one. 


Why Girls Are Weird said...

Interesting, I may check this out. Thanks for the review Sara!

Shooting Stars Mag said...

Sounds like a really good starting point for parents to try and teach their kids about kindness and empathy. I always say that being a reader my whole life made me really empathetic, and I definitely think it's an asset!