September 22

We need to learn to be social again

So we are back in school, although school looks different, with bubbles and zones and one way systems.

Still, it really is lovely to hear the girls voices around the school chatting and shrieking to each other at break. The girls are having to adapt – sometimes frequently, to new ways of being in school. According to Dr Sara Konrath, the generation of teenagers today is the most inward-looking generation yet, and she has dubbed them Generation Me. Writing before Lockdown, she said that even when teenagers are together, they are not interacting and she says that they have an empathy deficit; they are ‘the most self-centred, competitive, confident and individualistic generation’ yet. She argues that teenage empathy levels are disappearing fast, but she does have some suggestions for rescuing this generation. Anything we can do to reduce screen time will really encourage teenagers to interact with each other and we should also encourage them to read. Books are often a discussion about feelings. Getting outside into the fresh air and spending time as a family will also help them understand how others feel.

After 20 years at Blackheath High School I can’t say that I see a generation of teenagers any less empathetic than previous generations, but it is clear that having been more solitary over the last six months, they are having to get used to being around people again and we have the added complication of learning to be social in really difficult circumstances.

Again, there are things we can do to help. One is to model empathy by actively listening when your child is upset because this demonstrates the emotional value of being heard. When they fall out with friends – and they will – encourage them to come up with solutions and compromises rather than getting involved. Challenge your child to be curious and to imagine what it is like to be in someone else’s shoes, whether that is a class mate or a fictional character. Finally, explain yourself – parenting isn’t perfect! You can be vulnerable and it helps to explain to your daughter why you feel sad, angry or upset. These are challenging times and so our social connections have never been more important so let’s work at valuing them.

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