(I would like to thank my friend Molly for brainstorming with me for this post!)
Earlier this week, I was at the pool with some beautiful mother friends, and one of them mentioned a recent article in the Washington Post about raising kind children. You can read this article , and I highly suggest you do. I have read it over. And over. And over.
What is most stunning to me about this article is this particular statement:
About 80 percent of the youth in the study said their parents were more concerned with their achievement or happiness than whether they cared for others. The interviewees were also three times more likely to agree that “My parents are prouder if I get good grades in my classes than if I’m a caring community member in class and school.”
Don’t get me wrong; like most parents I would like my children to be happy and to have a happy life doing what they love. But, to have this at the expense of or exclusion of caring about others is totally disagreeable to me. Kindness and love really and truly is the pinnacle of the human being. It is to be found within ourselves, and how we hear and interact with the other.
How or why would this be happening? Eighty percent is an incredibly high number! I was pondering this, and this quote from the sweet little book “Wonderful Ways to Love a Teen….even when it seems impossible” by Judy Ford, M.S.W. popped into my head:
Some parents tell me that weeks go by without their saying anything more than hello and good-bye to their teenagers, not because they haven’t wanted to be with one another, but because their lives are loaded with demands and obligations. The years from junior high to high school can be one big blur. Soon the kids are graduating, and you barely remember what happened.
Children need to have kindness modeled for them everyday in their interactions; they need to be connected enough to their parents that their parents will help guide them in the tougher places and situations that often come up especially for middle schoolers and high schoolers; they need to have balance and time to breathe – not a schedule so packed in with rigorous academics and extracurricular activities that the home just becomes a “home base” on the way off to somewhere else. If we can slow down and connect, then we can work on kindness. But that requires time to talk, listen, exchange ideas.
I have been writing about kindness for a long time; you can see this 2009 post. The Washington Post article had some good points to make; another resource I would like to point out is Zoe Weil’s 2003 book, “Above All, Be Kind.” Weil’s book is focused upon humane education and educated decisions regarding consumerism. Her book is divided into sections by age, including birth through age 6, the years of 7-12 and the teenaged years. A constant focus on respect, reverence, responsibility, (as often mentioned in Waldorf Education and also a focus in Weil’s book), is a promising way to lay a foundation for kindness, no matter what the age of your child. Author Weil uses reverence as a focus in the early years, respect as a focus in the middle years, and responsibility as a focus for the teenaged years.
Above all, we must embody what we want our children to see. We must slow down life enough that the pressure of outside activities and achievements does not become more important than showing love and kindness to others. All the achievement in the world cannot really buy happiness, yet kindness often has a magic of its very own.
In this age where we are bombarded with information about parenting, discipline, how to navigate school, sports and friends, we can lose sight of the the most important lesson of all in relating to each other: kindness.
If you find the contents of the article disheartening, don’t read the comments. Many commentators felt that if their children were kind, others would take advantage of them in this competitive world. I live in the D.C. area, a Type A parent stronghold, and I assure you that is the prevailing wisdom. I found the whole episode sad, including the need for the article to be written in the first place.
Marie – Whew! I didn’t read the comments, and now I am glad I didn’t. And like you, it is hard to believe that we have to have whole books, articles, etc., about how to raise children to be kind. I think this points back to life being way too busy, not enough time in nature. I could go on and on. Thank you SO MUCH for reading my blog and for your comment. I am glad you are here!
Thanks for this. My daughter has a hard time at school because she is lost in a sea of kids who have not been taught how to step into another person’s shoes. She is often disappointed at the lack of care her classmates show towards eachother and I think it leaves her confused and feeling left out. It is sad to witness but I know that her kindness will be recognized one day…I love your site it’s always a lovely place to find reassurance and insight! Thanks for all that you do!
That makes me feel so sad to hear of your daughter’s experience. If we are only raising 20 percent of our children to be kind in our society, I cannot imagine what our society will be when these children grow up. Perhaps if we can show this 80 percent kindness and decency and move towards that, things will turn around. I hope and pray for this for all of our children.
I think American society in general tends towards an individual, independent approach toward “success,” which is typically defined in monetary or power terms. This is really sad. The whole community aspect of caring how your neighbor is doing and wanting to help someone without thinking what they could do to help you first sounds like it is sadly lacking. There also seems to be a mindset of nice = pushover. Nice needs to include appropriate boundaries. No boundaries = pushover. I wish nice wasn’t considered some sort of liability these days.