Harvard Study: Kids Choose Achievement Over Compassion

kids choose achievement over compassionMost parents and teachers today may believe they are teaching children how important concern for others is, but they are actually sending a message that achievement and happiness are more valued than empathy. That, at least, is what a recent study from Harvard University is suggesting.

Subjects made to choose between high level achievements, happiness, or caring for others

The study, called “The Children We Mean to Raise: The Real Messages Adults are Sending About Values” and conducted by the Making Caring Common project at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, reveals that nearly 80% of the 10,000 middle and high school students it surveyed said they value achievement and happiness over concern for other people. Only 20% of those asked what was more important to them, “achieving at a high level, happiness, or caring for others” put the third item at the top of their list.

Rhetoric/reality gap to blame

The authors are also implying that this seeming lack of empathy among today’s kids could be traced back to us, the adults. They single out the “rhetoric/reality gap,” which basically is the disparity between the things we say or tell them and the things we do. We tell them the value of caring for others, but our behavior tells them another message: we parents “are more concerned about achievement or happiness than caring for others.” The same goes for teachers, whom the respondents reported as prioritizing student achievement over compassion.

This is quite sad, and it’s quite possible that countless parents out there—this writer included—could be guilty of the Harvard study’s findings. I think what the study is trying to tell us parents is that we should do more than just talk about compassion with our kids. While achieving at a high level and getting happiness are still important, we should impress it upon them that having compassion for other people is just as essential. Backing our words with actions makes us role models, and that will help us raise caring children just like we want them to be.

To read the report in full, click here.

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