Walk Like a Man
How to Raise Your Son to Be a Great Guy
When boys are able to understand how someone else feels, it makes them better friends now and better husbands and dads in the future. "Empathy is a valuable social skill that helps you feel for others and prevents you from doing things that are hurtful," says Shari Young Kuchenbecker, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at Chapman University in Orange, Calif. "It's one of the best foundations you can give your son."
But studies suggest that moms may have their work cut out for them. According to researchers at University of Michigan, today's college students are 40 percent less empathic than they were 20 years ago. Two likely reasons, say researchers, are violent video games that numb kids to the pain of others, and social networks filled with virtual "friends" kids don't get to know in a meaningful way.
How to Do It
• Play "what-if." Encourage your son to put himself in others' shoes by using examples from something he enjoys, like sports. If he's watching a baseball game, for instance, join him on the couch and say, The pitcher looks like he's under a lot of pressure. How would you handle being on the mound? "It takes just a few seconds here and there, but you're teaching your son to consider others' feelings and put himself in their place," says Kindlon. "If you do that enough over the years, he'll grow into someone who can handle emotional situations well."
• Encourage him to read novels. Ongoing studies at York University in Toronto show that people who read more fiction than nonfiction score higher on empathy tests. Why? Researchers theorize that the parts of the brain we use to understand how fictional characters feel are the same ones we use to figure out how real people feel. And the more we use those parts of our brain, the stronger our ability to understand others.
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