Stop Trying to Raise Successful Kids
When children were asked what their parents want for them, 81% of American kids said that their parents value achievement and happiness over caring. Most of us who raise kids in India would probably be thinking that nearly 100% of Indian parents would want their kids to be high achievers with caring being a tertiary priority.
The authors say that from an early age kids learn to understand what their parents really care about:“Kids learn what’s important to adults not by listening to what we say, but by noticing what gets our attention. And in many developed societies, parents now pay more attention to individual achievement and happiness than anything else. However much we praise kindness and caring, we’re not actually showing our kids that we value these traits…Kids, with their sensitive antennae, pick up on all this. They see their peers being celebrated primarily for the grades they get and the goals they score, not for the generosity they show. They see adults marking their achievements without paying as much attention to their character….
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, then, that kindness appears to be in decline. A rigorous analysis of annual surveys of American college students showed a substantial drop from 1979 to 2009 in empathy and in imagining the perspectives of others. Over this period, students grew less likely to feel concern for people less fortunate than themselves—and less bothered by seeing others treated unfairly.”
In fact, when one of the most unfortunate aspects of modern parenting seems to be that“parents subtly discourage kindness, seeing it as a source of weakness in a fiercely competitive world. In some parenting circles, for example, there’s a movement against intervening when preschoolers are selfish in their play. These parents worry that stepping in might prevent kids from learning to stick up for themselves, and say that they’re less worried about the prospect of raising an adult who doesn’t share than one who struggles to say no.”
It turns out that were it not for these perverse parental signals, “Children are naturally helpful—even the smallest ones appear to show an innate understanding of others’ needs. By the time they are a year and a half old, many children are eager to help set the table, sweep the floor, and clean up games; by the time they turn two and a half, many will give up their own blanket for someone else who is cold.
But too many kids come to see kindness as a chore rather than a choice. We can change that. Experiments show that when kids are given the choice to share instead of being forced to, they’re roughly twice as likely to be generous later. And when kids are praised and recognized for helping, they are more likely to help again.”
So in a hyper competitive society like India will it actually help your child if she’s more caring, more helpful than others around her?“In fact, teaching children to care about others might be the best way to prepare them for a successful and fulfilling life.
Quite a bit of evidence suggests that children who help others end up achieving more than those who don’t. Boys who are rated as helpful by their kindergarten teacher earn more money 30 years later. Middle-school students who help, cooperate, and share with their peers also excel—compared with unhelpful classmates, they get better grades and standardized-test scores. The eighth graders with the greatest academic achievement, moreover, are not the ones who got the best marks five years earlier; they’re the ones who were rated most helpful by their third-grade classmates and teachers. And middle schoolers who believe their parents value being helpful, respectful, and kind over excelling academically, attending a good college, and having a successful career perform better in school and are less likely to break rules.
In part, that’s because concern for other people promotes supportive relationships and helps prevent depression. Students who care about others also tend to see their education as preparation for contributing to society—an outlook that inspires them to persist even when studying is dull. In adulthood, generous people earn higher incomes, better performance reviews, and more promotions than their less generous peers. This may be because the meaning they find in helping others leads to broader learning and deeper relationships, and ultimately to greater creativity and productivity.”