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  • 5 Strategies for Teaching Empathy to Teens

    by Beth Werrell

    Two Connections Academy students

    Empathy is a quality that has come to the forefront of social and professional conversations over the last several years—and with good reason! Not only is empathy a quality that can aid adults in the workplace(opens in a new tab), but it’s also an important quality to focus on in childhood development. 

    Developing an empathetic heart and mind can help children, and especially teens, become more conscientious, self-aware, and sensitive to the needs of others, which can translate to greater ease in creating friendships, social relationships, productive conversation, and so much more. 

    Check out these insights from psychologists and other experts on how to nurture empathy in teenagers, plus five great ideas for teaching empathy to teens. 

    What Is Empathy? 

    To convey the importance of empathy for teens, it’s necessary to first understand what empathy is. According to mental health education resource Verywell Mind,(opens in a new tab) empathy is defined as “the ability to emotionally understand what other people feel, see things from their point of view, and imagine yourself in their place.” There are different levels and expressions of empathy, but essentially it has to do with the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.  

    Why Is Empathy Important? 

    Empathy is an important emotional response that has many benefits. Some of the benefits of developing empathy(opens in a new tab) for teens include: 

    • Ability to build stronger relationships with other teens and educators 
    • Increased tolerance and acceptance of others  
    • Reduced likelihood of bullying  

    In addition, adults who practice empathy are generally shown to have greater success, both personally and professionally. So, teaching empathy to teens can help equip them for a brighter future in many ways.  

    Online students learning empathy by volunteering in a garden.

    How to Teach Empathy to a Teenager 

    Here are seven tips for you to encourage the development of empathy in your household and assist you with teaching empathy to teens. Most of these are also great empathy activities for middle school students, and can help build a foundation for empathy in their formative years. 

    1. Be a positive role model. 

    One of the best ways to learn is through modeling desired practices. Do your best to model empathetic behavior in your daily life, and especially in your interactions with your teen. Give them your full attention. Ask them how they feel and ask questions about why they feel that way.   

    2. Play devil’s advocate. 

    Teenage life comes with its own set of struggles and challenges, many of which will be centered around personal relationships and disagreements. When your teen runs into a disagreement, encourage them to see the other person’s point of view, and put themselves in their shoes. Can they see where the other person may be coming from? This is a great way to discuss and implement empathy (and also a great practice for teaching empathy to middle schoolers). 

    3. Look to history for empathy-teaching moments. 

    Being a teenager offers the benefit of being able to look to difficult historical events that are not recommended for younger students. Learning about acts of injustice and social catastrophe, such as the Holocaust, can educate teens about empathy on a larger and more historically-driven scale. 

    4. Highlight lesser-told stories to encourage historical empathy. 

    Similar to observing and discussing large-scale historical events to promote empathy, another great tactic is to specifically seek out lesser-told stories of injustice and struggle that might prompt discussion on empathetic response. This allows teens to “analyze history through multiple perspectives,” and tap into the power of historical empathy(opens in a new tab).  

    5. Use art and photography for empathy-teaching moments. 

    Another unique way to encourage empathetic thinking in teens was made popular by The New York Times in their “What’s Going On in This Picture” series(opens in a new tab). This series presents a photo without a caption and prompts students and readers to make their own observations on what might be happening in the photo.  

    Other Great Resources for Instilling Empathy in Teens  

    In addition to the empathy exercises for teens mentioned above, here are some other great learning resources from Connections Academy® that can help teach compassion and empathy to students: 

    Focus on teaching your teen empathetic practices and watch their relationships, engagement with school and extracurricular activities, and self-esteem grow as a result! 

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  • 5 Tips to Make a Smooth Transition from Online School to College

    by Beth Werrell

    Student Walking

    Higher education is an exciting time of learning, personal growth, and new opportunities. College-bound students have a lot to look forward to, and many graduates will attest to the fact that their college years were some of the best years of their lives.  

    At the same time, the transition from high school to college isn’t easy. Life can change substantially and may include new academic expectations, living arrangements, learning environments, financial needs, and social circumstances. 

    Online high school students, including those enrolled at Connections Academy®, have some added college-prep advantages,such as already knowing how to work independently and navigating online learning technology. However, online students may face more challenges when it comes to adjusting to a new learning environment, especially for those who are switching from virtual to on-campus learning.  

    Whether you’re excited, nervous, or both, having an idea of what to expect can help with eliminating stress and making the transition from high school to college a lot smoother. The following tips are a great place to start:   

    1. Consult with an academic advisor. 

    You may come across numerous classes you want to take when reviewing your college’s course catalog but knowing which courses to enroll in will ensure you aren’t spending unnecessary time and money while working towards your degree. An academic advisor will help you come up with a registration plan to ensure you’re on the right academic track.  

    Your college, as well as your academic advisor, may request that you choose a major before enrolling in your first semester courses, but keep in mind that it’s not set in stone. Discuss your interests and possible majors with your advisor so they can help ensure that the classes you take your first year will count towards your eventual degree, even if you decide to change your major down the road.  

    2. Get Involved. 

    Given the fact that you’ll be catapulted into an entirely new social environment, it’s fair to anticipate new social challenges. It’s common during freshman year of college to have the “freshman blues” and feel lonely, isolated, or like you’re lost in a sea of strangers. 

    To overcome this, plan to get involved in your school’s social opportunities. Before you officially step foot on campus, research clubs, organizations, social events, and volunteer programs to see what you might be interested in joining. Becoming part of a club or organization can help create a sense of belonging and connection. However, avoid overcommitting or spreading yourself too thin—make sure you budget time for classes, homework, jobs, or internships, and any other activities that need to be prioritized.

    An online student making the transition from school to university by participating in social events

    3. Seek Support. 

    Even positive changes like transitioning from school to college life can be overwhelming at times, and it’s important to have resources available when you need emotional or academic support. This may include friends and family as well as academic tutoring, career and mental health counseling, and student support groups. Seeking support may also involve letting your school and professors know if you have any disabilities or need specific learning accommodations.  

    Contact your school’s student services department for a list of resources and to discuss how to deal with the transition to college. 

    4. Ask for clarification. 

    Online school and college prep courses are effective at preparing students for college-level courses, but college course content and the nature of your assignments will inevitably be different. In addition to seeking out support when you need it, communicate directly with your professors when you need clarification or additional guidance.  

    Raising your hand during class when you have questions or approaching your professor after class can be intimidating, but it can make a big difference in your comprehension of the course material and even your final grade.  

    A online high school student learning about transitioning from school to college life

    5. Determine financial needs. 

    College can come with some big expenses that require budgeting—on top of tuition fees, you also have to consider living costs, books and supplies, and how much income you’ll need to bring in each month. You’ll also have to determine where you’ll source money for your expenses, whether it be loans, scholarships, savings, gifts, work, or some combination of these.  

    Living arrangements vary for students who are in their first year of college. Some students move into a dorm, some opt for finding roommates close to campus, and others choose to continue living with their parents to save money on living costs.  

    Ask yourself what will be in your best personal and financial interest, now and in the long run, and then determine what financial actions you’ll need to take to make it happen.   

    The transition from high school to college comes with a lot of challenges, but being prepared in the right ways will allow you to make the most of it. Check out our college preparation checklist for high school students that outlines what to consider each year to ensure college readiness.

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