Are you raising moral children?

Melissa Erickson More Content Now

As a parent, are you more concerned about how successful your child is or if he or she is a kind, caring and ethical person? The results of a Harvard study may surprise you.

The report, titled “The Children We Mean To Raise,” seems to suggest we are morally failing our children by teaching them that achievement and happiness are more important than caring for others. Eighty percent of youths surveyed reported that their parents are more concerned about them getting good grades than if they are acting like a caring community member in class and school.

In response, experts from the Making Caring Common project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education came up with strategies and resources for raising moral, caring children.

Here’s a short question and answer with Jennifer Kahn, project coordinator for the project.

Q: Most or all parents would want to raise their children to be kind, so why the need for Making Caring Common?

A: What we find is that most adults do view raising kind children as a top priority. However, children are hearing a different message. We call this the rhetoric/reality gap, a gap between what parents and other adults are saying is a top priority and the actual messages adults are sending in their day-to-day interactions with others and with their children. It’s not enough to want to raise kind kids. We have to follow through on our intentions and be explicit about what that means.

Q: If parents are not prioritizing kindness, what other traits do they consider important?

A: While parent values vary, our findings suggest that youth perceive their parents to value high achievement and happiness above caring for others. Again, this goes back to the rhetoric/reality gap. Many parents may indeed view caring as a priority, but their actions may suggest otherwise.

Q: Do children need to be nurtured to become caring, ethical adults?

A: Signs of caring and compassion are present early on in life, but children need adults to help nurture these skills throughout development. Children learn to be caring, ethical adults when they are treated that way and when the adults in their lives model and encourage those values.

Q: What would be the No. 1 thing parents can do to raise caring children?

A: Walk the talk. Be a good moral role model. Don’t just say it’s important to be kind and think about others. Show your kids how through your own behavior, and hold your kids to high ethical standards. Expect them to help out, to say thank you and to consider the perspectives of others.

Q: Any other tips?

A; It is often easy for us to have empathy for those we are close to, but challenge your kids to think about and care for those they might not usually notice such as a new student, a teammate or a neighbor. Encourage your kids to think about others’ perspectives, thoughts and feelings.

For more information, research and tips, visit