UnSelfie

This is a very good book that tackles something that feels pervasive in society and yet impossible to lock down. The Selfie, taking a picture of oneself, is a great concrete example of it, but there are hundreds of other small examples of the decrease in social activity, kindness, and friendships across the country and globe. This book turns the focus to development and tags the capacity for empathy as a root cause, and promotes how to increase it in all people. While it may not be a silver bullet, the author presents a strong case for making it a major focus for parents and teachers. I highly recommend it.

The fundamental assertion of Ms. Borba is that our children — and adults — are lacking basic compassion and interpersonal skills, which used to be developed through normal expansive human interaction. These emotions and intentions are still there naturally, as 2- and 3-year-olds continue offering kindness and warmth when someone gets hurt. And yet we begin lacking them by kindergarten, leading to an array of negative outcomes: increased bullying, increased anxiety, decreased happiness, and decreased self-sufficiency. She presents dozens of great stories about classroom activities that have improved emotive responses, such as bringing a baby into a classroom and asking the students to identify what emotions the baby is having. She talks about wonderful kids who, upon seeing a sad situation or poverty, takes action because they cannot not help, and end up creating an organization that provides thousands of items to the needy. One particularly interesting section was Chapter 4, where she leads in with a heartwarming story and talks about the importance of reading picture books to younger children (below age 10 or so, I would estimate). This surprised me, as we have gotten heavily into chapter books with our five-year-old, and we all seem to enjoy them. However, her point — and I buy it — is that picture books help children see images of people’s emotions, which helps connect the story with specific feelings. I can imagine that the abstract story feels less real to a child than a picture, and it will actively change how we parent and what books we promote. She also says that recent research indicates that reading digital content does nothing to increase the love of reading, and thus kids should avoid kindles and such. No big surprise there, but nice to have the data backing up our intuition. She also proposed watching children’s movies with kids, as they regularly engage a wide range of emotions, both through the storyline as well as visually. That’s a nice reminder, as our oldest avoids movies that might have scary parts — so we need to push through, maybe have a friend over for it to bolster his courage, and make sure he can engage with both positive and challenging emotions.

My one comment on the structure of the book is that it seems a little too business-y, with lots of checklists and acronyms and multi-step procedures. It reminds me of leadership and management books that have those features, and it ends up sort of becoming forced.

My big takeaway is that children learn about emotions by talking about them and seeing them visually, and that parenting emphasis on emotions and empathy can make a big impact. I am happy to have read the book, and look forward to helping my sons get better with emotions.