NEWS Mental Health News Empathetic Teens Come From More Secure Homes, Study Says By Krystal Jagoo Krystal Jagoo Krystal Kavita Jagoo is a social worker, committed to anti-oppressive practice, who has worked for three academic institutions across Canada. Her essay, “Inclusive Reproductive Justice,” was in the Reproductive Justice Briefing Book. Learn about our editorial process Updated on August 05, 2021 Fact checked Verywell Mind content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Fact checkers review articles for factual accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. We rely on the most current and reputable sources, which are cited in the text and listed at the bottom of each article. Content is fact checked after it has been edited and before publication. Learn more. by Nicholas Blackmer Fact checked by Nicholas Blackmer LinkedIn Nick Blackmer is a librarian, fact-checker, and researcher with more than 20 years’ experience in consumer-oriented health and wellness content. He keeps a DSM-5 on hand just in case. Learn about our editorial process Share Tweet Email Print SolStock / Getty Images. Key Takeaways Teens with a supportive family and secure attachment demonstrated more empathy with close friends. Close friends tend to seek further support from adolescents who had secure attachment from supportive family relationships. For teens who lacked secure family relationships in adolescence, there was a pattern of catching up regarding empathy. Empathy is often encouraged for healthy relationships. A study published in Child Development found that a secure attachment at the age of 14 predicted a greater capacity to demonstrate empathy with friends from 16 to 18. With many individuals finally becoming increasingly aware of longstanding oppression, it will be more crucial than ever to think critically about how to foster empathy for future generations to make much-needed change. Encouraging the empathy needed for critical, social changes begins in the home when teens are supported within their own family. How to Practice Empathy During the COVID-19 Pandemic The Research Study This multimethod longitudinal study assessed how secure attachment predicted empathic support for friends from the ages of 14 to 18, among 184 adolescents across the Southeastern United States, of whom 58% identified as white, 29% identified as Black, and 13% identified as other racial backgrounds. For this study, adolescents participated in an interview about their attachment relationships at the age of 14, from which security was based on descriptions of supportive relationships, after which follow-up at 16, 17, and 18 years assessed the empathy demonstrated among friends. A limitation of the study is its focus on only the U.S., but it is still significant as the first to assess how attachment is related to the development of empathy using longitudinal methods and observations of friends through adolescence and found that secure attachment predicted greater empathy. 3 Ways to Build Real Empathy for Others in Your Life Empathy Is Fundamental to Relationships Behavioral health medical director at Community Health of South Florida, psychiatrist Howard Pratt, DO, says, “Empathy in the context of relationships is about the ability and genuine desire to understand and put yourself in the shoes of the other person in the relationship.” Since empathy is fundamental to relationships, Pratt explains how it determines how we show affection to let people know that they matter. “If there is no empathy, then people end up feeling not cared about, that their emotions, how they feel, just aren’t important and that hurts,” he says. Howard Pratt, DO If there is no empathy, then people end up feeling not cared about, that their emotions, how they feel, just aren’t important and that hurts. — Howard Pratt, DO Pratt says, "What makes a secure home will be determined by the adults in the home or family. Children are always mirroring behaviors, as they are seeing how the adults in the home treat each other, and how they show affection, and even how they disagree and/or fight helps form a model for how kids will view relationships and behave within them." The better a family can express themselves to each other, whether in agreement or disagreement, acknowledging and validating each other and avoiding being cruel, dismissive, or contemptuous, then Pratt highlights how the kids will have a more secure home. "In other words, if the parents in the home are supportive of each other and can demonstrate that to their children, then kids will generally learn to do the same," he says. Pratt says, "In homes where families are supportive of each of its members—and keeping in mind that by supportive, this doesn’t mean that it has to appear so to everyone else outside the family, but rather within the home." From seeing how family cares about each other, Pratt elucidates how children understand how feelings are taken into consideration, so they tend to carry that sense of security into forming better friendships. Empathy Can Mean Difficult Conversations New York-based neuropsychologist and faculty member at Columbia University, Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, says, "Empathy literally translates to being able to put yourself in someone else's shoes. Without being able to do that, relationships become one-sided and selfish, with one person assuming that they are always right, and only their feelings matter." Since nobody wants to be in a relationship where they do not matter, Hafeez explains how empathy can evoke feelings of understanding. "While it comes more naturally to some, it can also be modeled most of all by parents to teach their children how to see the world with more than one lens. A secure attachment means the child feels unconditionally loved, and does not fear being abandoned because a parent went to work, or away," she says. Hafeez says, "Parents, even in conflicted homes, can work on modeling empathetic behavior for their children. This can mean having difficult conversations about race, BLM, or LGBTQ issues. Not all families have the same values so while this can be tricky, a good place may be to read or learn together, even explore family therapy that might start a safe conversation." Sanam Hafeez, PsyD Parents, even in conflicted homes, can work on modeling empathetic behavior for their children. This can mean having difficult conversations about race, BLM, or LGBTQ issues. — Sanam Hafeez, PsyD For example, Hafeez explains that an altercation at school can be a starter where the parent can share how their child may be more fortunate or have it easier than a peer. "Secure attachments can be built by having candid conversations, affirmations of love, and praise, as well as following through on your word. Children who can trust the adults around them, grow up to be trustworthy, and thus form long-lasting, happier relationships," she says. Hafeez says, "Securely attached individuals can usually form healthy relationships and friendships. The absence of mental health issues can sometimes have a familial or genetic component, so families should be cognizant of this. You will often find that a parent with healthy relationships will have children with the same, leading back to the nature-versus-nurture conversation, but a lot can be done by teaching empathy." What This Means For You As the research demonstrates, adolescents from supportive families tend to form secure attachments, which predict greater empathy with friends. As you engage with others, it can help to think critically about how oppression may pose a barrier to secure attachments, as it may provide a reason to demonstrate empathy for marginalized groups. Why Empathy Is Important 1 Source Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Stern JA, Costello MA, Kansky J, Fowler C, Loeb EL, Allen JP. Here for you: attachment and the growth of empathic support for friends in adolescence. Child Dev. Published online July 15, 2021. doi:10.1111/cdev.13630 By Krystal Jagoo Krystal Kavita Jagoo is a social worker, committed to anti-oppressive practice. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist Online Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.