Empathy lies at the foundation of compassion, social skills, and relationships. It's particularly important for children and young people as they develop their sense of self and others.
A 2014 University of Toronto study published in the journal 'Trends in Cognitive Sciences', found that reading fiction develops empathy and imagination.
Fiction: Simulation of Social Worlds — University of Toronto.
A story has the ability to ‘transport’ us into the emotional states of others whose worlds and lives are often socially different from our own. Stansfield and Bunce found reading these type of stories can have a potentially positive impact on 'real-world helping behaviours'.
The relationship between empathy and reading fiction: Separate roles for cognitive and affective components — J Stansfield and L Bunce (2014), 'Journal of European Psychology Students'.
The transition into adolescence is a particularly vulnerable time. Young people in this life phase experience a 'perfect storm' of hormones, emotions, and physical changes. They often have new schools and peers, and increasing academic pressure. Reading fiction provides a reprieve from the day-to-day stresses. It also provides an empathetic bridge to the lives of others. Canadian researchers who looked into the importance of reading for pleasure in the lives of 12- to 15-year-olds found:
...teens gain significant insights into mature relationships, personal values, cultural identity, physical safety and security, aesthetic preferences, and understanding of the physical world, all of which aid teen readers in the transition from childhood to adulthood.
— Vivian Howard, The importance of pleasure reading in the lives of young teens: Self-identification, self-construction and self-awareness
Builds social connections
Although the act of reading — being 'immersed in a book' — is a solitary act, reading is also an important connector. Chatting about books and reading can happen casually at school or home, in book groups, or at events. The result is more social interaction.
Reading also improves oral language development and can be an ongoing source of pleasure throughout life. These outcomes tie in with the New Zealand Curriculum's focus on developing 'confident, connected, actively involved, and lifelong learners'.