How Students Can Use Technology to Create Empathy

February 20, 2013 — 3 Comments

Yesterday, I blogged about the drop in empathy among students today. Quite frankly, bullying is up because empathy is down. My research tells me that heavy screen time—technology—is playing a role. As screen time goes up, empathy goes down. Too much information leads to too little emotion. We have a perfect storm of elements that’s hindering this virtue.

Today—I want to share an encouraging story of a high school student who is actually using the very technology that diminishes empathy to cultivate it. This student uses the technology that cyber-bullies use to victimize kids—to do just the opposite. It’s simple. Anyone can do it.

Jeremiah Anthony, a high school student in Iowa City, and his friends are crushing cyber-bullies with kindness. And their classmates are reaping the benefits. Anthony created a Twitter account to encourage and compliment his fellow West High School students after hearing about how cyber-bullies were hiding behind social media to do their dirty deeds. I love this paradox. He said, “You shouldn’t be such a coward you have to hide behind a screen to say bad things to people.”

Catch just a few of his tweets:

@zacknullmeyer You are the man, one of the best runners West has right now. You have more work ethic that just about anyone.

@alexandra_dobre Very creative and wise. You’re an outstanding musician, with your guitar and your voice. Keep being lovely and caring for all.

@evpurk  Your encouraging personality and generosity towards others makes you very likeable. You’re quite the intelligent kid, keep it up.

At first, the idea seems a little cheesy. But tell me what kid wouldn’t want to get a tweet directed to him or her—and broadcast to all who might be following? Jeremiah and his buddies use the handle @WestHighBros. They have sent out more than 3,000 tweets…and it seems to be catching on.

What I love about this simple idea is that it takes the very tool that often reduces empathy and compassion for others—and actually builds it. Remember, anything can be viral, good or bad. Destructive or constructive.

Are there any other examples you’ve seen of this phenomenon? Leave a comment.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/rwschumacher Richard Schumacher

    I recently challenged educators to do something similar – leaving notes on desks and lockers on Valentines Day. Nearly 1,000 people viewed the post (http://day1of1.wordpress.com/2013/02/05/shout-out-for-students/). I have had several teachers respond, saying what a blessing it was for both the students and the teachers. Shout Out for Students is something I hope to continue. This post further shows the great need we have for simple, authentic connections with our students.

  • Marta Chylewski

    First and foremost, I’d like to begin by saying I’m a big fan of your blogs. So much so that I am currently applying for a scholarship to hopefully be able to attend your 2014 Growing Leaders conference . Fingers crossed I can get across from Sydney to your neck of the woods for this fabulous opportunity. Won’t know till March unfortunately, hopefully your conference won’t have sold out by then.

    Now to respond to your blog on bullying. I’m sorry to say this Tim but I have to admit that I’m not convinced, (as yet) about this theory of bullying being up in numbers due to lack of empathy, however I have been wrong before ;-)
    I think bullying has always been around and in the same capacity it is now. If anything it was worse back in the day. I spent most of my school years being bullied so it’s something I have zero tolerance for in any context but there was little awareness and acknowledgement of it back in the day when I was at school (1980’s – late 1990’s).

    Actually because bullying was unspoken of I think what we (victims of bullying) endured as kids back in my day was twice as bad as what’s happening now , however it would not be dealt with as our parents and teachers weren’t equipped with the knowledge they have now about the effects of bullying. Furthermore, the topic was a bit taboo like the topic of sexual abuse was back in the day. Nowadays we know more about these topics and I would hope that awareness of these issues is helping to decrease the amount of bullying and abuse occurring.

    Nowadays teachers hear the word bullying almost weekly and more often or not it has been misinterpreted and the incident named as bullying (like that football game article you posted today) has been a quarrel or accidental knock or bump that gets blown out of proportion by children lacking resilience and anxious parents or ‘handbag’ parents react in order to try and protect their child.

    I don’t deny bullying isn’t occurring but if we had to put it down to a percentage in each school, my optimistic mindset would be inclined to say that the figures are probably minimalistic; Probably on par in the student context as that in the parental context. Now that’s a sadder issue when it’s occurring between adults. Those parents should know better but our children see how their role model mother or father act and mimic it. There’s some truth to the saying ‘The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

    Another view I’d like to propose is that 24/7 internet access to all that we want to know in today’s day and age can be empowering but it’s also breeding a fear filled growing society where people lack faith in the human race, organisations, products and processes. No one trusts anyone wholly anymore, adults and children are becoming greedier, self-focused, time poor and want instant gratification and quick fixes to everything. Could these matters not be impacting on bullying too? Happy to elaborate but conscious of how long my post Is getting.

    Thank you for taking the time to read this. Have a lovely weekend.
    ;-) Marta

    • http://www.GrowingLeaders.com Tim Elmore

      Hi Marta, thank you so much for your thoughts. With the students that we work with today, I’ve seen an increase in bullying. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released a study stating that in 2003, 7.1% of students 12-18 reported being bullied, and in 2007 that number jumped to a whopping 31.7%. There are multiple studies that have relayed very similar statistics.

      I understand what you mean when you state that sometimes there is a misinterpretation of what bullying is; however, I believe that schools need to have a clear definition of bullying for everyone.

      I agree with your technology point. I’ve written many articles on this subject. Thanks for your insight. Sorry to hear that you were a victim of bullying, but I’m so appreciative that you can share your insights with all of us. :-) Tim