Worried That the World Today Is Unkind? You're Not Alone, Says Survey

The Results of a Survey on What Parents and Teachers Think About Kindness

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Empathy and kindness are important skills that may help kids succeed in life. Blended Images - KidStock/Getty Images

If the tone of U.S. politics and headlines about internet trolls and nasty comments and bad behavior by people who are supposed to be our leaders and representatives have you worried about what sort of example all this uncivil behavior is setting for kids, you are not alone: A national survey released by Sesame Workshop in October 2016 shows that kindness is certainly on the minds of many parents in the U.S.

The survey, called “K Is for Kind: A National Survey on Kindness and Kids,” found that almost three-quarters of parents and nearly four-fifths of teachers often worry that the world is an unkind place for children. According to the survey, parents and teachers are worried that people don’t go out of their way to help others, and they also believe that kids need strong social and emotional skills in order to do well in life.

Exploring Kindness

Characterizing their mission as one that helps children everywhere “grow smarter, stronger, and kinder,” Sesame Workshop decided to explore the issue of kindness as an issue that’s important to children and families this year. They chose to focus on kindness because of the “increasing number of news stories on anger, fear, bullying, and violence, as well as an overall sense of negativity permeating social discourse,” and because of research showing that narcissism is increasing and empathy is declining.

Sesame Workshop surveyed more than 2,000 parents of kids ages 3 to 12 via telephone and conducted an online survey of 500 teachers of children in pre-K to 6th grade. The results showed that both parents and teachers are worried that kids today are growing up in an unkind world and that both groups agree that kindness is important for kids’ future success, even more than good grades.

Some highlights of the survey:

  • 70 percent of parents said they often worry that the world is an unkind place for their child
  • 86 percent of teachers said they often worry that the world is an unkind place for kids
  • 73 percent of parents said it’s more important for their child to be kind to others than be academically successful
  • 78 percent of teachers said it’s more important for children to be kind to others than be academically successful

But while parents' and teachers' focus on the importance of kindness is good, there seemed to be a bit of a disconnect as to what kindness means. Parents said that being polite was more important than being considerate or helpful (empathy) while teachers put empathy over manners: When asked, "Which of these is more important for your child to be right now?" Fifty-eight percent of parents chose manners compared with just 41 percent of parents who chose empathy. Among teachers, 63 percent said that empathy was more important compared to 37 percent who chose manners.

Understanding Manners vs. Empathy

This interesting difference shows that parents may be equating good manners with empathy. But the truth is, manners and empathy are not the same thing. (For example, a mean child may display great manners in front of adults and then turn around and bully or belittle someone.) And when it comes to who should be teaching kids kindness, teachers reported that parents could be doing more (only 44 percent of teachers said they believe that “all” or “most” parents are raising their children to be respectful, and only 34 percent said “all” or “most” parents are raising children to be empathetic and kind)

Parents, on the other hand, said they are actively teaching their children kindness: As many as 75 percent of parents reported that they talk to their children at least a few times a week or more about seeing things from other people’s points of view, and 88 percent said their child is kind.

The Bottom Line

So what does this all mean for parents, teachers, and kids? There is a wealth of evidence that social and emotional skills like empathy and kindness are important for kids' success. (It makes sense—after all, who wants to work with a narcissist and bully on their team at work or be friends with someone who only cares about herself?) Parents, teachers, and everyone can do their part to help kids be respectful, kind, and thankful and learn good manners as well.

If we can help today's kids learn to respect each other, there may be hope for the future yet.

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