Actor Cillian Murphy backs empathy plan for pupils

Acclaimed actor, Cillian Murphy, has concerns for his children in the era of smartphones and social media.

Actor Cillian Murphy backs empathy plan for pupils

He is promoting a new scheme to boost empathy in young people.

The Corkman, most recently seen in his recurring role as Tommy Shelby in the BBC’s Peaky Blinders, is a patron of the Unesco Child and Family Research Centre and its Empathy Education Project, which is being piloted in six schools, with plans to roll it out elsewhere.

The Child and Family Research Centre is based in NUI Galway and its work on youth social empathy includes a large research and curriculum development, as well as the Social Empathy Education programmes in schools and in teacher education.

The first phase of the project involves the development of the Activating Social Empathy programme for use in transition year and as part of the new Junior Cycle wellbeing programme. It is being piloted in six schools across the country, since last September, and will run until June this year.

Speaking alongside Prof Pat Dolan, of the Child and Family Research Centre, Cillian Murphy said empathy was a fundamental part of acting, but he also believed incorporating it into the school curriculum was a “brilliant idea”, as well as a “practical idea”.

“The beauty of it is putting kids at the centre of it, not talking down to them, but empowering them,” he told RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke programme.

A number of transition-year students will travel to Galway in the coming days, as part of National Empathy Day. Prof Dolan said the promotion of passive empathy — “I understand where you’re coming from” — and effective empathy — “I will do something about it” — were key skills for young people to develop.

He also said the research was looking at what might help promote empathy in young people, such as youth clubs, peer relationships, and the role of parents, and what might inhibit it.

Referring to his own sons, aged 10 and 12, Cillian Murphy said he shared concerns over cyberbullying, and the use of smartphones and social media at a young age.

“Absolutely, it has been in the news so much recently,” he said. “On a basic level, bullying through smartphones or social media, [it seems like] there are no consequences, it seems you can do it with impunity.”

He said it was important that people realised that hurtful comments were just as damaging delivered through smartphones as if they were face-to-face.

There are plans to develop the pilot project and roll it out to other schools, including overseas, while Cillian Murphy said his next project was a play with Enda Walsh, in Galway next month. Walsh wrote Disco Pigs, Murphy’s breakout stage role.

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