A new survey conducted by the Sesame Workshop found that parents are highly concerned about their children being met with a lack of kindness and showing a lack of kindness themselves.
Seventy-eight percent of teachers and 73 percent of parents stated that they believe it is more important that their students and children be kind than academically successful, agreeing that kindness is essential for future success, even more so than good grades.
But teachers and parents differ when it comes to whether they believe that parents are doing enough to instill such values in their children.
Only 44 percent of teachers said that they believe that parents are raising their children to be respectful, and only 34 percent said that parents are raising their children to be empathic and kind.
Parents, however, feel pretty confident that they’re doing enough to raise children who will help make the world a kinder place: 75 percent said they talk to their child about seeing things from other people’s points of view at least a few times a week, and 88 percent describe their own child or children as kind.
But these beliefs are not being translated to their kids: In a national survey conducted by Harvard on students across a spectrum of races, cultures, and classes, about 80 percent of the kids reported that they believed their parents and teachers were more concerned with them achieving good grades than being caring toward others.
The kids who were interviewed were also three times more likely to agree that “my parents are prouder if I get good grades in my classes than if I’m a caring community member in class and school.”
At the root of this problem could be something called the “rhetoric/reality gap,” which describes “a gap between what parents and other adults say are their top priorities and the real messages they convey in their behavior day to day,” writes Harvard psychologist Richard Weissbourd in a report called Raising Moral Children. “Most parents and teachers say that developing caring children is a top priority and rank it as more important than children’s achievements.”
So how can parents close this gap?
Weissbourd and Stephanie Jones, both Harvard professors, run the Making Caring Common project, an organization devoted to help educators, parents, and communities raise kids who are kind. “Research in human development clearly shows that the seeds of empathy, caring, and compassion are present from early in life but that to become caring, ethical people, children need adults to help them at every stage of childhood to nurture these seeds into full development,” they say.
One of the most important things you can do is have meaningful conversation with your kids. Asking them to answer questions like the following (and answering them yourself) will subtly instill the importance of kindness and place equal weight on their in-school and outside experiences. Here are a few to get you started:
- What was the best part of your day? The hardest part?
- What did you accomplish today that you feel good about?
- What’s something nice someone did for you today? What’s something nice you did for someone else?
- What’s something you learned today — in school and outside of school?
And the time to act is now.
According to the Sesame Street study, 70 percent of parents said they “often worry the world is an unkind place for my child.” And 86 percent of teachers expressed the same sentiment in regards to their students.
Teachers and schools are reporting what the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has dubbed “the Trump Effect” — an increase in bullying and intolerance in schools that seems to be correlated with the 2016 presidential election.
The survey noted that teachers are reporting that students have been “emboldened” to bully through “name-calling and [making] inflammatory statements toward each other” in the wake of the election.