THE BLOG
02/03/2015 02:18 pm ET Updated Apr 05, 2015

In Defense of Guilt and Empathy

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I've been grappling with my thoughts about this issue for some time now. It seems to me that my generation was raised on a reasonable dose of love, nurturing, limits and some degree of empathy and guilt, and that most of us seem to be doing just fine now. Note the emphasis on most of us! It is my impression that the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction regarding guilt and empathy and that the current generation of teens are being raised with lots of attention to their tender feelings, but that we are neglecting to focus on a number of important areas including:

1. Teaching them to focus on the effect that their behavior has on others.

2. Taking responsibility for their actions and making things right.

3. Learning to look out not only for themselves, but for the well-being of their peers.

4. Apologizing and meaning it.

5. Being aware that it is fine to feel a little bit guilty and maybe even a little bit bad if they have done something that hurt their parents.

I am not suggesting that we guilt trip our kids and tell them that we will become sick or lose years of our lives due to the stress that they are causing us, even though many of us benefitted from feeling a little guilty about doing things that would upset our parents. A little guilt and empathy stopped many of us from doing things that would not only have upset our parents, but would have put us in harm's way. We certainly do not want to raise anxious and depressed kids who are full of guilt and self-loathing. On the other hand, it would be lovely to raise kids with more of a conscience than many of the teens are being raised with or without today.

In my practice, I see the most wonderful teens with all kinds of feelings and sensitivities. Nonetheless, way too frequently, I hear about teens cyber-bullying each other, leaving drunk friends at parties and ridiculing each other for their their sexual status. Many of our teens have little idea that their parents have feelings that can be hurt and hearts that can be broken. I say this cautiously, but let's hear it for teaching our kids just a little bit of guilt and a whole lot of empathy.

Next time your teen goes to a party, suggest that they look out not only for themselves, but for their peers as well. It should be their responsibility to call adults if any of their friends are in trouble. And, if you find out that they left their friends high and dry (no pun intended), then a talk is warranted. Next time your teen comes home an hour late without contacting you, you are perfectly within your rights to let them know how worried and nervous that made you. It's not simply about punishment; Some understanding of how they affected you is warranted. Maybe this is guilt-inducing, but so be it. Some lessons are important to learn. And, next time your teen complains that her friends have parents who are better listeners etc., then maybe we as parents need to give this some careful consideration because, remember, many of us were raised to pay attention to how our behavior affects others.