Teaching Teens Empathy

The 8 Hour Wheelchair Challenge

While technology has brought us many wonderful benefits, there also has been a dark side. Children growing up in this new internet era show a lack of social grace, no desire to honor the elderly, and a profound lack of empathy.

With more children growing up in single parent/homes of divorce, many parents who are able throw money, toys, vacations, and “things” to their child in a subconscious (or conscious) effort to appease/apologize for the separation.

Parents will often try to “outdo” the other parent in terms of who can give more – trying to buy their child’s affections. In turn, this creates a very indulged, entitled, and sometimes manipulative individual.Selfie

These children grow into teenagers who are given designer clothes, shoes, luxury trips, cars, and everything is paid for. While this may somewhat assuage mom and dad’s guilt over their failed marriage, they unknowingly have also failed the task of parenting.

Parenting is not about giving a child everything they want.  It’s about equipping them to be who God has created them to be.

Children cannot be what they cannot see. 

One assignment that has helps teach empathy is the wheelchair challenge.  The wheelchair challenge is an 8 hour challenge in which an individual must get a wheelchair and for one day, for 8 straight hours, function out in the real world solely in the wheelchair.

The assignment includes the following:

1. Going out to shop for a minimum of 1 hour in a major shopping mall (nothing must be purchased)

2. Going out to eat for one meal at a restaurant (Breakfast, lunch or dinner)

3. Not goofing off (i.e., doing wheelies, giggling, racing, or spinning in the wheelchair)

4. The only time they are permitted to leave the wheelchair during the 8 hours is to use the restroom.

5. A friend can help them only 40% of the time – but the other 60% of the time they need to propel (move) themselves.

6. The teen cannot indicate in any way that they are doing an assignment.

7. Make sure to wrap the legs with a blanket.

After the assignment is over, the following day – or within a week – take the teen to see a live “wheelchair tennis” match.

You can find a local match here: Wheelchair USTA

This exercise brings with it a depth of understanding, sensitivity, respect and empathy for others that cannot be described on paper – it must be experienced. I did it. I hope you choose to do it as well. This world is starving for love.

“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, that you have love for one another.” John 13:35


Self interest is the great universal motive. Society clearly reflects this today. As Christians, we are to be the salt of the world. But what happens when we begin to adopt the beliefs, attitudes and behaviors of this world? How will the world be attracted to Christ if we look just like them?

WHY would they want to know Jesus if we – who claim to know Him- look and act just like them? 

“You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.” Matthew 5:13

“Cease listening to instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge.” Proverbs 19:27

Many people believe the myth “that’s old fashioned” or “well that’s in the old-testament.” Everything that’s in God’s word is there for a reason.

Have you ever notice that selfish people are often unhappy? And selfish/greedy people are never satisfied? No matter how much they acquire, they always want more.  Yet on the contrary, happy people also happen to be generous.  They’ve discovered that deep, abiding joy does not come from the acquisition of more things, but from living a life of meaning.

Oh friends, this is why we are encouraged in Acts 20:35 “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”

Let me encourage you, dear friend, that when you are able to “walk in the shoes of another” and give of yourself in such a manner, you are actually becoming more like Christ.


Dr. Christy


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