Social awareness is the ability to understand and empathize with other points of view even those viewpoints that may be different from your own.
What skills help to develop social awareness?
- Identifying verbal and physical social cues (e.g., facial expressions, eye contact, body language, pitch and tone of voice, gestures, personal distance, and posture)
- Showing concern for others’ feelings
- Demonstrating genuine compassion and empathy
- Understanding and expressing gratitude and thanksgiving
- Recognizing others’ strengths, abilities, skills, and interests
- Caring about and being motivated to contribute to the greater good (e.g., within their own family and their circle of friends, school, the community, and larger world environment)
What can you do as a parent?
If teens are to value other’s viewpoints and empathize with them, they need to hear from you as parents that caring is very important in their happiness and in others’ state of happiness. Teenagers need to hear from you that you care about them.
- Reframe your message: Instead, of just saying “I want you to be happy,” say “The most important thing is that you are kind and also happy.”
- Highlight caring as an important attribute: When discussing your child’s progress in school or their participation in extracurricular and sports activities, ask if your teen is a caring member in addition to how they are progressing in skills and performance.
- Help your teen see a wider world: It’s essential that your child put the concern for others over their own happiness. So instead of another hour of TV or video games, they should be encouraged to help around the house or yard and engage in other helpful activities for the community (e.g., neighborhood litter pickup, tutoring younger kids, coaching, and other volunteer/service projects). Additionally, encourage them to work with diverse groups of people on community problems not just “for” them.
- Provide opportunities to practice empathy: Hold family meetings when there are conflicts or challenges; allow everyone a voice and listen carefully to others’ views in trying to come to some consensus. Another activity is to discuss ethical dilemmas in their own lives (the teen’s) or within the family’s lives so they see and appreciate different perspectives (e.g., should I invite __ to go to the mall even though some of my friends don’t like him or should I tell my friend that her boyfriend has skipped school? You can take this a step further and actually practice empathy through more real-life situations that concern your teen: creating a thank you card for a teacher or coach, calling customer service at a store to compliment a worker, or write a letter to the editor of the school newspaper or local city paper about why we need to __ in the community.
- Expand the circle of concern: Use television stories, the newspaper, online news, and other forms of media like movies and books to converse with your teen about people’s challenges and hardships. Share the different experiences people have in other communities across our nation and world and especially focus on children their age. Brainstorm together some ideas of how they can take action to be more empathetic “in a larger circle” (e.g., donate money to an animal organization, raise funds for a specific cause, include a teenager at school who may not have a large social circle at your table for lunch, etc.
- Assist with helping your child manage their feelings and develop self-control: Oftentimes, it is difficult to express empathy when you are overwhelmed with negative feelings (frustration, anger, sadness, loneliness). Talk about their feelings and their prejudices and stereotypes of others. This will help allow them to be more empathetic toward others. Help them practice self-control through taking deep breaths and counting to calm themselves. There are many techniques backed up by science that attest to success in breathing exercises, self-talk, and delayed response (counting to a certain number first to relax). These techniques would be worth reading about and trying. Finally, practice how to resolve conflicts by discussing alternative actions and role-play different ways to respond.
What resources are available about social awareness?
Two very effective, quality resources to help you better understand social awareness and provide a background/framework to teach teenagers include:
- 5-Minute Film Festival: Videos on Kindness, Empathy, and Connection
VideoAmy compiled this playlist of videos to explore the importance of human relationships and the power of being kind, generous, and compassionate. All of the videos are short and are aimed at adults and teens to get a better grasp on the importance of social awareness.
- Handouts on Active Listening and Open-Ended Questions
These simple to understand one-page tips help you to teach empathy by modeling active, empathic listening skills. Being able to “hear” what people are really saying and to be able to “honestly express your feelings” are key communication skills that impact the quality of our relationships and well-being. Educational research has shown that if parents and other adult figures in your teen’s life model a high level of social and emotional maturity, it is easier for them to acquire these abilities as well. We can all practice and demonstrate active listening and open-ended questioning techniques to be more inclusive of others and to develop more compassion.
It is never too late to encourage social awareness in children, even in the teenage years. By demonstrating open and genuine caring, your teen will be more apt to apply these skills and techniques in their own life, their situations, and their environments. In time, they will be confident and skilled enough to reach out to a broader community and impact the lives of others and the environment. Don’t think that just because your child is now in their teen years that they don’t need you as a parent who truly cares about them and helps them to practice and develop the social awareness to be their best selves now and in the future.