Are kids not as kind as they used to be?
A new survey from the US has revealed that kids are getting meaner, and it looks like parents are to blame.
NBC News polled 2600 people in the state of kindness survey. They found that 62 per cent of participants think that today's kids are not as kind as they used to be. Perhaps gloomier still, 77 per cent of respondents thought that the lack of kindness is down to mums and dads.
The survey also revealed that when it comes to teaching kids values, Americans don't put kindness at the top of the list. Values such as honesty, courage, leadership, and a strong work ethic all came ahead of kindness.
Richard Weissbourd is a psychology lecturer at Harvard University and head of the Making Caring Common project, which aims to promote the importance of kindness. He says that he is not surprised by the results of the survey.
"Kids tend to think that other kids are less kind and respectful than they are, and parents do, too," he told Yahoo Parenting.
"Overvaluing ourselves or not being aware of our blind spots, while being hyperaware of those in others, is not uncommon."
Weissbourd also notes that stories in the media about cruelty – from bullying and sexual harassment to school shootings – can taint our belief that young people are essentially good.
On top of this, Weissbourd points out that survey participants who claimed children are not as kind as they used to be, also ranked kindness fairly low on the list of values to teach them. He says that this is a powerful mixed message.
"I think, historically, the messages kids got were different, as public schools were created to foster ethical character, colleges were meant to foster ethical character, and it was considered a mother's responsibility — not that it should be all on the mother — to make sure kids learned kindness," explains Weissbourd.
He continues: "It's not like caring has now disappeared, but it has become subordinated, it has become secondary."
Noting his own research, Weissbourd says that 80 per cent of children think their parents are more concerned with achievements than whether they cared for others.
"Kids don't perceive that parents prioritise kindness, so part of it is that we need to walk the walk," he says.
The NBC poll also asked participants whether kindness is learned or taught. Interestingly, the results were split - 52 per cent said everyone is born with the ability to be kind, while 47 per cent think that kindness is a quality that has to be developed.
"It's absolutely teachable," Weissbourd says. "And almost everyone is kind to somebody — a good friend, a family member. So the issue is not whether they have the capacity, it's who they are kind to, and [the aim is] expanding that circle of concern and kindness."
If you want to teach your children how to be kinder, Weissbourd suggests the following strategies from the Making Caring Common project.
1. Make caring for others a priority
- Instead of saying to your kids: "The most important thing is that you're happy", say "The most important thing is that you're kind".
- Make sure that your older children always address others respectfully, even when they're tired, distracted, or angry.
- Emphasise caring when you interact with other key adults in your children's lives. For example, ask teachers whether your children are good community members at school.
2. Provide opportunities for children to practice caring and gratitude
- Don't reward your child for every act of helpfulness, such as clearing the dinner table. We should expect our kids to help around the house, with siblings, and with neighbours and only reward uncommon acts of kindness.
- Talk to your child about caring and uncaring acts they see on television and about acts of justice and injustice they might witness or hear about in the news.
- Make gratitude a daily ritual at dinnertime, bedtime, in the car, or on the subway. Express thanks for those who contribute to us and others in large and small ways.
3. Expand your child's circle of concern
- Make sure your children are friendly and grateful with all the people in their daily lives, such as a bus driver or a waitress.
- Encourage children to care for those who are vulnerable. Give children some simple ideas for stepping into the "caring and courage zone", like comforting a classmate who was teased.
- Use a newspaper or TV story to encourage your child to think about hardships faced by children in another country.
4. Be a strong moral role model and mentor
- Model caring for others by doing community service at least once a month. Even better, do this service with your child.
- Give your child an ethical dilemma at dinner or ask your child about dilemmas they've faced.