Harvard’s Making Caring Common Project Explores Troubling Values of Youth
Findings of Researchers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education Suggest That While Parents Say That Raising Caring Children Is A Top Priority, That’s Not What They’re Conveying in Their Daily Messages
CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Making Caring Common (MCC), a project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, today released new research that observes a tendency of our youth to value aspects of personal success over concern for others. Ten years of research illustrate evidence of a rhetoric/reality gap between what parents and educators say are their top priorities, and the real messages they convey to children and youth about caring and fairness.
Making Caring Common has found that our youth’s values are awry; instead of prioritizing caring and fairness, children are more focused on personal achievement and happiness, and believe that these aspects of their success are more important to their parents and teachers than whether they are concerned for others. The report, entitled “The Children We Mean to Raise,” shows that caring has become deprioritized, and despite the majority of parents and educators who say that developing caring children is a top priority, kids are not grasping the message. Instead, interviews and observations show that parents’ daily messages to children about achievement and happiness are overshadowing their messages about concern for others.
Highlights of the study, led by Richard Weissbourd and Stephanie Jones, faculty members at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and co-directors of Making Caring Common, include:
- Asked to rank what was most important to them, a large majority (80%) of youth selected aspects of personal success—high achievement and happiness—as their top choice. Roughly 20% of youth chose caring for others.
- When children do not prioritize caring and fairness over aspects of personal success—and when they believe their peers are even less likely to prioritize these ethical values—they are at greater risk of developing many forms of harmful behavior, including being cruel, disrespectful, and dishonest.
- The irony is that all the focus on children being happy may not make them happier.
These findings are based in part on a survey of 10,000 middle and high school students from 33 schools representing diverse youth from across the nation, and on hundreds of interviews and conversations with children, parents, and teachers over the last 10 years.
FROM RESULTS TO ACTION
In light of this research, Making Caring Common suggests several straightforward strategies for parents and educators to help youth develop key social, emotional, and ethical capacities. These include:
- Creating ongoing opportunities for children to practice being caring and helpful.
- Helping young people expand their ‘circle of concern’ to consider multiple perspectives, including the perspectives of those who are vulnerable, and to deepen their understanding of fairness and justice.
- Acting as a strong moral role model to ensure words match actions.
- Teaching children constructive strategies for managing destructive feelings.
Weissbourd says, “Making Caring Common is intent on generating conversations among parents and educators about how we can make caring and fairness priorities for youth. Our mission is to help reshape the messages that our society sends to children about the definition of success and what it means to be an ethical member of a community.”
To learn more about how Making Caring Common is working to train educators to encourage caring and help parents set expectations for kind and caring behavior, view the full report at www.makingcaringcommon.org.
Making Caring Common Project on Facebook: www.facebook.com/makingcaringcommon
About Making Caring Common
Making Caring Common (MCC), a project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), aims to help educators, parents, and communities raise children who are caring, respectful, and responsible toward others and their communities. The goal of the project is to make these values live and breathe in the day-to-day interactions of every school and home. For more information, please visit: www.makingcaringcommon.org.
About the Researchers
Richard Weissbourd, co-director of MCC, is a psychologist and lecturer at Harvard, teaching at both the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Harvard Kennedy School. His current work focuses on children’s moral and ethical development, how parents can raise more caring children, and how adults can mentor teenagers and young adults to develop ethical and mature romantic relationships. He has written for numerous publications and blogs, including The New York Times, The Huffington Post, CNN, The New Republic, NPR, and Psychology Today. He has consulted to schools and organizations around the country and has advised on family policy and school reform at the city, state, and federal levels. Weissbourd is the author of The Parents We Mean to Be: How Well-Intentioned Adults Undermine Children's Moral and Emotional Development (Houghton Mifflin 2009), which was named one of the top 24 books of 2009 by The New Yorker, and of The Vulnerable Child: What Really Hurts America’s Children and What We Can Do About It (Addison-Wesley, 1996), named as one of the top 10 education books of all time by the American School Board Journal. He holds a doctorate from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Stephanie Jones, co-director of MCC, is a developmental psychologist and the Marie and Max Kargman Associate Professor in Human Development and Urban Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Her work on children’s and adolescents’ social and emotional development and non-cognitive factors in school and life success has been honored with awards and grants from institutions such as the National Institute of Mental Health, the U.S. Department of Education, and the William T. Grant Foundation. Her expertise on social and emotional learning (SEL) is frequently sought and she has consulted to policymakers, nonprofit organizations, and television programs. She has been honored with the Joseph E. Zins Early-Career Distinguished Contribution Award for Action Research in Social and Emotional Learning and the Grawemeyer Award in Education. She earned her doctorate in developmental psychology from Yale University.