We all know what we say to our children matters. Harvard lecturer Richard Weissbourd writes that we convey confusing values in his research, The Children We Meant to Raise.
“Because parents and teachers have such a powerful influence on children’s values, it’s no small matter that there is a gap between what these adults say and what they appear to prioritize daily. Research suggests that most parents across race/ethnic groups value caring or “benevolence” more than achievement and are far more likely to value “benevolence” over “power” (Suizzo, 2007). Youth, however, have a markedly different view of parents’ child-raising goals,” aiming towards achievement and self-happiness more than benevolence. (p. 9, The Children We Meant to Raise)
Harvard EdCast includes a fascinating interview with Weissbourd, if you want to hear his summary of findings.
Weissbourd suggests three things we can do to help our kids internalize the values that really matter to us.
LISTEN TO YOURSELF: It will mean doing a kind of reckoning, a check on our messages about happiness and achievement in contrast to our messages aboutcaring and fairness. Do we regularly tell our children, for example, that “the most important thing is that you’re happy,” or do we say that “the most important thing is that you act with integrity and are kind?”
- LISTEN TO YOUR CHILDREN and get
feedback to ensure that our words match our actions. We might simply ask our children whether it’s more important to them to achieve or be caring, and ask which one of these values they think is moreimportant to us, and then discuss misperceptions and misalignments that emerge.
RESIST THE TENDENCY TO ASSUME IT IS OTHER PARENTS WHO ARE THE PROBLEM: We all have a responsibility, and we all could be contributing toraising disrespectful and irresponsible kids, whether we mean to or not. Just as it is important for us to push youth to reflect on why they think their peers are less caring and ethical than they are, it is important for us to reflect on why so many of us view ourselves as superior to other parents. We can’t let ourselves off the hook. To one degree or another, the problem is each one of us.