How to teach teens empathy

It's easy, I think, for teens to pity people, to feel sorry for someone else. It's much harder for teens to cultivate and develop empathy, the ability to feel and understand another person's experience. This is true, I'm afraid, even for church kids.

Pity doesn't require anything more than a passing glance; Empathy demands a relationship and an opportunity to actually get to know another person.

One of the best ways that we can get to know another person is by seeing where they live.

Unfortunately, in today's society, it's no longer the norm for people to see each other's houses, let alone go inside of them. Just the other day I was talking with a friend who commented how abnormal it is for people to have their children's birthday parties in their homes; How they're always held elsewhere. The same is true for high school teens, who often connect with their friends away from home, at school or through extracurricular activities. Even on the weekends, teens often hang out with each other outside the home – at the mall, the movies, a park, or a restaurant.

Knowing this, one of the ways I teach teens empathy is by creating opportunities for them to see where their peers live.

To do this, every fall, my student leaders deliver survival kits to our incoming freshmen. These survival kits include items related to many ministry events throughout the year and serve as a valuable way of welcoming teens into our ministry.

Beyond that, though, because my student leaders deliver these survival kits to people's homes, they get to see where they live – at least from the outside. Doing so shows student leaders that teens in our ministry come from a variety of backgrounds. They live in different communities in different types of houses – some huge and some very small. They live in sprawling lots and cramped apartments. Some live blocks from the church; Others live miles away and have to pass several other churches before arriving at ours.

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Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the Minister of Youth and Family at Atonement Lutheran Church in Barrington, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus (The Youth Cartel), The Real Jesus (The Youth Cartel), Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders (Abingdon), and A Mission That Matters (Abingdon). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. Jen is also the Assistant Director of Arbor Research Group where she has led many national studies. When not doing ministry or research, she and her husband, Doug, and daughter, Hope, can be found traveling and enjoying life together.

More about Jen

Jen's Books

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A Mission That Matters: How To Do Short-Term Missions Without Long-Term Harm

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Now Available!

Unleashing the Hidden Potential of your Student Leaders

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The Real Jesus

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The Jesus Gap

What Teens Actually Believe About Jesus

Based on National Research

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