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Photo: Saint Francis Academy via Flickr Creative Commons

According to a shocking Harvard University survey of school-aged kids, 80 percent of children believe that their parents care more about their academic and athletic achievements more than moral attributes like kindness.

The 10,000 students in the nationwide survey were told to rank the following attributes in order of importance: Achievements, Kindness, & Happiness. Students said that achievement was the most important value. More importantly, students reported that their parents appreciated achievement much more than happiness or kindness.

While we might not mean to send that type of message to our children, the authors of the study described a “rhetoric/reality gap” in which parents and teachers say they prioritize caring, but kids are hearing something different.

Kids were three times as likely to agree with the statement “My parents are prouder if I get good grades in my classes than if I’m a caring community member.”

Unfortunately, children are not the only ones hearing parents’ implicit message. Educators believe that parents value achievement and happiness over empathy and caring. “The great majority of teachers, administrators, and school staff did not see parents as prioritizing caring in child-raising. About 80 percent of school adults viewed parents as prioritizing their children’s achievement above caring and a similar percentage viewed parents as prioritizing happiness over caring,” said the study.

“The great majority of teachers, administrators, and school staff did not see parents as prioritizing caring in child-raising. About 80 percent of school adults viewed parents as prioritizing their children’s achievement above caring and a similar percentage viewed parents as prioritizing happiness over caring,” said the study.

If parents really want to let their kids know that they value caring and empathy, the authors suggest they must make a real effort or different approach to help their children learn to care about other people—even when it is at odds with their personal success.

What are ways you teach compassion to your kids? Share it with us and other parents in the comments below!