Sunday, January 29, 2017

It's Kind of a Big Deal

A few weeks ago I was reading an article in USA Today about a survey conducted by the Sesame Street Workshop organization.  As I have a vested interest in Sesame Street by the virtue of parking my two children in front of their program pretty much non-stop for the bulk of their pre-school years. (Don't judge me). In my defense, moms in the 1970's were brainwashed into thinking that Mr. Rogers, the Electric Company crew and the cast of Sesame Street would turn our uneducated 3 year olds into reading and spelling prodigies. Who knows??...  Maybe my children's later successes are in large part due to the efforts of Big Bird.  Sadly, I never sent him a thank you note.  Bad manners on my part I suspect. Regret is an evil emotion.

Well...Back to the subject of the survey.  Sesame Street is now in it's 47th year and tackling the subject of kindness with an emphasis on empathy. According to the article both teachers and parents are worried that today's kids are growing up in an unkind, unempathetic world. Sesame Street creators are going to try to enlighten the little heathens among us by teaching them  how to recognize kindness, emulate it and  how they might look at something from another person's point of view.

I have to think that this is a complicated mission.  The survey included the opinions of  2000 parents and 500 teachers and there seemed to be a lot of confusion between those surveyed as to what is constitutes kindness. Kindness means different things to different people. There is a lot of gray area between using good manners and truly possessing a generous spirit toward others.   If this  murky, undefined  concept of "what exactly constitutes kindness?" wasn't enough of a hurdle for their survey, there were many that questioned "what is the difference between empathy and sympathy?"

After the survey result were in, Jeffery D. Dunn, the CEO of Sesame Workshop said "This survey confirms our concerns. It is time for a national conversation about kindness."

Jennifer Kotler Clark, a researcher at Sesame Workshop said both parents and teachers overwhelmingly felt that being kind was more important than being academically successful. (Note: Hey kids...try using that line on your parents when you get a bad grade.  "Sure I got a D in Algebra but I sure treat my fellow classmates with the utmost respect.")

Kotler Clark went on to say that during the survey they substituted words to represent kindness including empathy, helpfulness, thoughtfulness, politeness, and manners.  When asked which is more important manners or empathy, 58 percent of the parents said manners. Katler Clark suggested that maybe parents assume if a child is mannerly that they are also empathetic. Not so fast, she cautioned.  Bullies are great at using good manners around adults.

While  the parents thought that manners were more important than empathy,  63 percent of the  teachers  ranked empathy as more important than manners.  Only 30 percent of the teachers said that parents are raising their children with values consistent with their teachers.  OUCH!!  Fifty percent of the teachers surveyed said they felt that being kind is not a top priority.  (Did they mean from the perspective of the children, the parents or themselves?  Hey teachers!...use complete sentences.)

According to the article, research has proven that self-regulation, and pro-social behaviors in children are a predictor for future health, financial stability, and academic success.  Supposedly, kids not only need to see and recognize examples of these types of behaviors but they need to practice them.

Rosemary Truglio said that this year Sesame Street is making kindness a top priority. She said they want to make it more explicit. (I am assuming she means that in a good way.) The show wants to get beyond the niceness of manners. (Although....let's not gloss over that too much...manners matter.)

So what's your thoughts, readers?  Is empathy being taken over by narcissism?  Are children not seeing and recognizing behaviors that teach them to be kind?  Collectively, are we becoming a civilization of  people that choose not to care how others feel?

No comments: