In case you missed it, Fellow for Life Jessica Lahey (North Carolina, 1988-89), a correspondent for The Atlantic, recently reported on a study released by Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education showing that when it comes to imparting values to their children, parents are sending mixed messages – and educators are compounding the confusion.
In Why Kids Care More About Achievement Than Helping Others, Lahey detailed the findings of Harvard’s survey of 10,000 middle and high school students about which of the following was most important to them: achieving at a high level; happiness; or caring for others. Nearly 80 percent cited achievement or happiness as being most important; just 20 percent gave highest priority to caring for others.
The results alarmed the study’s authors, who note the irony that kids who have empathy for others actually tend to be more successful and happier than children who lack empathy. The researchers attributed the findings to the mismatch between what parents and teachers say they want for their children and the messages they’re sending through their daily actions about what is important in life. While the majority of parents and educators say that developing caring children is more important than achievement, 80 percent of children in the survey believe that their parents are more concerned about achievement or happiness over caring for others.
As Lahey observes in her piece, “simply talking about compassion is not enough. Children are perceptive creatures, fully capable of discerning the true meanings in the blank spaces between well-intentioned words.”
In other words, as the old saying goes, “Children learn what they live.”
In addition writing for The Atlantic Lahey, a former teacher, writes about education and parenting for The New York Times and on her excellent blog Coming of Age in the Middle. She is also the author of the forthcoming book The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed.
We’re very excited to have her joining us once again as a presenter at this year’s Schweitzer Leadership Conference on Saturday, Nov. 8 at the Renaissance Boston Waterfront Hotel. Lahey’s insightful presentations always prompt great discussions. (And speaking of discussions, her Atlantic piece generated more than 250 comments as of June 30.) We hope you can join us!