Several studies have found that strong parent-child relationships can help kids navigate everything from stressful situations to peer relationships.
Now, a new study conducted by researchers from the Taylor and Francis Group has found a strong connection between parents’ empathy and their kids’ behaviors. According to their findings, kids who feel that their parents are empathetic are less likely to deal with teen delinquency than those with less empathetic caregivers. They’re also more likely to become empathetic themselves.
“The principle implication of this study is that parental support, as perceived by the child, apparently plays a small but significant role in the development of empathy in early adolescent youth,” the researchers wrote. “Empathy, in turn, may serve to reduce the child’s propensity for future delinquent involvement.”
How empathy affects delinquency
The researchers analyzed nearly 4,000 survey responses from kids enrolled in the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children. The children were surveyed each year from ages 12 through 17 and answered questions that assessed their own levels of empathy and how empathetic and supportive they believed their parents were. In the final year of the survey, the teens reported on how often they had engaged in acts of delinquency, including things like stealing or destroying property.
The study showed that kids who felt that their parents were empathetic towards them were less likely to engage in delinquent acts. When kids felt that their homes were solid and supportive, they behaved better as adolescents and teens. The team found that the opposite was also true; kids that didn’t feel that same level of empathy were more likely to engage in delinquent behaviors.
Having children perceive their parents as empathetic was also beneficial for other reasons. The study showed that kids were more likely to develop the trait themselves -- which also contributed to fewer delinquency behaviors -- when they felt that their parents modeled the trait for them.
“What this current study adds to the literature on the parental support-delinquency relationship is a mechanism capable of further clarifying this relationship,” said researcher Glenn Walters. “The mechanism, according to the results of the present study, is empathy.”
While the researchers believe that there could be other factors at play here that ultimately affect kids’ behaviors, these findings highlight just how important it is for kids to feel supported and understood by their parents.