Friday, October 18th, 2013
Even though parents teach children to consider others’ feelings and be kind starting in toddlerhood, the most important cognitive skills associated with empathy are still developing well into adolescence–later for boys than girls, according to a new six-year study published in the journal Developmental Psychology. More from The Wall Street Journal:
In adolescence, critical social skills that are needed to feel concern for other people and understand how they think are undergoing major changes. Adolescence has long been known as prime time for developing cognitive skills for self-control, or executive function.
“Cognitive empathy,” or the mental ability to take others’ perspective, begins rising steadily in girls at age 13, according to a six-year study published recently in Developmental Psychology. But boys don’t begin until age 15 to show gains in perspective-taking, which helps in problem-solving and avoiding conflict.
Adolescent males actually show a temporary decline, between ages 13 and 16, in a related skill—affective empathy, or the ability to recognize and respond to others’ feelings, according to the study, co-authored by Jolien van der Graaff, a doctoral candidate in the Research Centre Adolescent Development at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Fortunately, the boys’ sensitivity recovers in the late teens. Girls’ affective empathy remains relatively high and stable through adolescence.
The riptides are often noticeable to parents. Susan Burkinshaw has tried to cultivate empathy in her two teenage sons, 16 and 18, since they were toddlers, encouraging them to think about others’ feelings. Yet one “went through a period in eighth grade where he was just a bear to deal with. He always had an attitude,” says Ms. Burkinshaw, of Germantown, Md. “Then as quickly as it came on, it turned back off again.”
The findings reflect a major expansion in researchers’ understanding of cognitive growth during adolescence, according to a 2012 research review co-authored by Ronald Dahl, a professor of public health at the University of California at Berkeley. Researchers used to believe that both forms of empathy were fully formed during childhood.
Now, it’s clear that “the brain regions that support social cognition, which helps us understand and interact with others successfully, continue to change dramatically” in the teens, says Jennifer Pfeifer, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Oregon in Eugene. Preliminary research in her lab also suggests cognitive empathy rises in teens. The discoveries serve as a new lens for exploring such teen behaviors as bullying and drug abuse.
Image: Teen friends, via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, October 30th, 2012
The seniors on an undefeated Arizona high school football team are working as a team in a unique way–they’re lending advice and support to a special-needs girl who has been the target of bullies because of her health issues. The New York Daily News has more:
A group of kindhearted seniors on Arizona’s Queen Creek High School football team have lent Chy Johnson some tactical defense, helping a girl whose brain disorder once made her an easy target for bullies.
The new friendship started when Elizabeth Johnson, whose daughter said girls threw trash on her at school, contacted starting quarterback Carson Jones.
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“I emailed Carson, told him that Chy was having some issues, was just wanting some names,” she told a local television station.
“He took it a step further and went and gathered Chy up at lunch and she’s been eating lunch with them ever since,” Johnson said.
Jones, fellow teammate Tucker Workman and many other Queen Creek Bulldogs have also started looking after Chy throughout the day, a move that has stopped people from bothering her.
“I guess they’ve seen her with us or something,” Jones said.
Monday, October 29th, 2012
The Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee was the site of a fun surprise for patients recently–not something that often happens in the scary environment of a hospital. A group of window washers amazed kids by dressing in superhero costumes which they donned while they clambered up the windows on the outside of the building. ABC News has more:
“The kids always come up to the window and ask us, ‘Are you Spiderman?’” Steve Oszaniec, a 23-year employee of the Chicago-based American National Skyline window cleaning company, told ABCNews.com today. “So I came up with the idea of, ‘Why don’t we just show up as Spiderman?’”
With the plan hatched, Oszaniec, son Danny Oszaniec and their colleague, Jordan Emerson, pitched the idea to their boss, Sean Conley, in the company’s Memphis office and to hospital administrators, who all quickly said yes.
The trio then purchased their costumes – two Spiderman suits and one Captain America – and Oct. 17 turned the hospital into a scene straight out of a comic book.
“We just went there, put them on and went up,” Oszaniec said. “They [hospital staff] brought a lot of the kids to the little family room there so they could see us. It was unbelievable. They just totally forgot they were sick for a minute. They were just ecstatic about it.”
Oszaniec, who describes himself in real-life as “more Captain Old Country than Captain America,” says the dressed-up superheroes also shot silly string as they repelled up and down the 12-story hospital building for four hours to make their Spiderman takeover even more life-like.
Hospital administrators say what Oszaniec and his colleagues did was, all jokes aside, truly heroic.
“It’s a real thing,” hospital spokeswoman Sara Burnett said of the use of out-of-the-box therapies like this one to help kids heal. “When a child’s mind gets off their pain and their sickness, it makes them heal, it makes them relax and it helps them recover and get better quicker.”
Image: Window washer, via Shutterstock
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Monday, June 11th, 2012
An inspiring story from two Boston mothers who found themselves in a situation that would make many a child’s blood run cold–a little girl’s favorite stuffed bunny, Nummy, fell out of the girl’s stroller and onto train tracks in Boston. From the mothers’ blog, Life with Roozle:
By the time I got to the bottom of the stairs, the next train had come, but was stopped halfway through the station. The doors remained closed. And there I saw her, Nummy. She was sitting on the platform, just right. The conductor of the next train, in the middle of rush hour, had stopped the train, picked Nummy up and put her back on the platform for us. I thanked the worked profusely and ran back to Michelle and Roozle who had now started coming down the elevator to find out where I had gone. I waited for them at the top of the elevator, Nummy in hand to be reunited with her Roozle. Michelle strolled Roozle and Nummy over to the worker’s station where Roozle shouted a big thank you to her for saving her friend.
Image: Nummy, via Life with Roozle.
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