Creative Child

Kids Value Achievement Above Kindness Because We Do. And it’s Counter-Productive.

by Deborah Song

Sharing is still caring in today’s day and age. But it seems kids care about sharing second to achievement.

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A study conducted by the Harvard Graduate School of Education showed that of the 10,000 middle and high school students surveyed, only 20 percent picked caring for others as their top priority. Eighty percent chose high achievement and happiness -- in large party because they believed their parents valued achievement and happiness above caring.

It’s no surprise, then, that there’s been a substantial drop in empathy from 1979 to 2009, another study shows. The students surveyed grew less likely to feel concern for people less fortunate than themselves—and less bothered by seeing others treated unfairly.

Given the state of our economy, and the ever-widening gap between rich and poor, the shift in focus from kindness to achievement seems like a plausible response. Can we truly afford to put kindness above achievement? Isn’t kindness often an impediment to success? Don’t nice guys finish last?

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No, actually.

Science reveals that happier and more successful kids who care about others are able to better relate, respect differences, and perhaps most compellingly, develop the kind of motivation that fuel successful people to go the distance without burning out in their academic and professional pursuits. Genuine kindness (not the ingratiating, please-step-all-over-me version) is a strength that spurs long-term achievement and true happiness.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Isn’t valuing kindness and harmony above personal achievement the right thing to do – at least by most religious and cultural moral codes? This should merit priority on its own accord. 

So what are we not doing as parents? I don’t know about you, but I tell my kids to be kind all the time. I tell them to be nice to each other at least 10 times a day. I even tell them to be inclusive at school before I drop them off. But here’s at least one litmus test: how many times do our kids get asked how they performed on a test or how many points they scored in a game, versus how many acts of kindness they partook that day. After a soccer game, do we pull our kids aside and ask them how they displayed good sportsmanship? Or do we harp them on what they could’ve done better?

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