For the Making Caring Common Project, Harvard University surveyed some 10,000 middle and high school students from 33 schools across the country in 2013 and 2014. They also interviewed hundreds of parents, and the results may very well trouble you and force you out of your comfort zone.
As the investigators noted at the start, “Research suggests that almost all parents say they are deeply invested in raising caring, ethical children, and most parents see these moral qualities as more important than achievement.” However, their study’s findings did not bear that out. Instead, they discovered that:
• 60% of students rank achievement above caring for others.
• Almost 66% believe their peers do, too.
• The older students were far likelier to put happiness above both caring and achievement.
Not surprisingly, then, the researchers found that, if students don’t prioritize caring or don’t think their parents do, they score very poorly when it comes to empathy and were less likely to be altruistic—i.e. giving up a Saturday to help out at a school event or tutor a friend.
There’s more bad news for both parents and their kids:
• Just 19% of students said that caring was their parents’ top priority.
• 54% of them saw achievement as their parents’ top priority.
• 27% said it was happiness.
• Nearly 66% believe that both their parents and their peers put achievement above caring for others.
The upshot: All this hovering, trying to ensure our children’s happiness, and catering to their every need makes them more concerned with themselves than others No wonder, then, that 60% of the surveyed students put hard work above kindness, and 66% put it above fairness.
Teachers, administrators, and school staff seem to have a similar view of parents, with about 80% of them saying that parents put achievement above both caring and happiness. Meanwhile, 62% of the students saw their teachers as “prioritizing doing well academically as their top value” vs. just 15% believing that promoting caring mattered most of all.
Now, hard work is, of course, admirable, but it doesn’t translate into raising empathetic kids. With such findings, we shouldn’t be surprised that the Josephson Institute 2010’s Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth found that:
• 59.4% admitted cheating on a test, including 55% of honors students;
• 33% had cheated on a test twice or more in the previous year;
• More than 80% said they’d copied homework;
• More than 33% had plagiarized an Internet document;
• 61% said they’d lied to a teacher about “something important;”
• Only 20%, though, reported having cheated in sports.
And why not considering the countless parents who do their kids’ homework and/or projects, write some, most, or all of their essays, call them in sick when an assignment hasn’t been completed on time or they’re unprepared for a test, and tell them repeatedly that they’re the best, and so on. As might be expected then, that same Josephson Report found that 57% of high schoolers agree with the statement, “In the real world, successful people do what they have to do to win, even if others consider it cheating.”
Oh, yes, and that’s borne out by the study WallStreet, FleetStreet, MainStreet of 500 professionals across the U.S. and the United Kingdom in the financial services industry. The findings, while unsettling, should not surprise given parents’ prioritizing achievement above caring, kindness, and fairness, despite what they say:
• 24% believe that, to be successful, unethical or illegal conduct may be necessary;
• 24% say that, for success, rules may have to be broken.
• 16% say they’d engage in insider trading—a crime—if they could get away with it.
So make no mistake: Our kids are watching and following our lead. Indeed, that old adage, “Do as I say, not as I do,” applies here, so beware the unintended consequences of “My kid is the best” boasting, helicopter parenting, and putting achievement and happiness above all else.