A friend of mine shared that her son was concerned that his friend may be cutting. She asked me how to approach this with him. I mentioned the very fact that he was sharing this with her was very encouraging. He is obviously growing in empathy…concerned about the needs of others – feeling their pain. I gave her the following suggestions gleaned from a book that I read entitled “How Rude: The Teenagers’ Guide to Good Manners, Proper Behavior, and not Grossing People out” by Alex J. Packer.

  • Be a shoulder – be an encouraging, listening ear
  • As questions – help your friend define the problem. Brainstorm some practical ways to deal with it. Make a plan of action
  • Don’t minimize the problem – statements like “You’ll get over it” or “That happens to lots of people” can seem to belittle your friends’ pain. Give them sympathy, understanding instead
  • Offer assistance
  • Show that you’re not afraid to talk about difficult things – sometimes your friend may feel embarrassed at having shared a problem with you. Tell him/her that you’re really glad that they told you their problems. Ask them how they’re feeling and how things are going
  • Be alert to the possibility that there’s more to the story than you’ve being told – friends with serious problems may only give you the tip of the iceberg out of denial or shame. Saying “Sounds like things are pretty rough. Please tell me what going on?” will help your friend feel comfortable sharing with a caring soul
  • Know when to turn to others – when a friend has revealed a very serious problem like drug use or suicide, it’s best to enlist the help of a counselor. Even if your friend has sworn you to secrecy, this is one secret you cannot keep. Your friend’s life or health depends on it.

This young man is growing up to be a principled, polite and virtuous individual who values people. Empathy is the touchstone of lasting relationships. Teens are very perceptive and can understand the importance of this virtue when it’s pointed out to them. As parents, we need to ask ourselves what kind of friend are we so that our youth can see tangibly what empathy should look like.

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