I always ask students what’s more important to them, personal success or caring for others. Needless to say you know where this is going. Throughout the year, I spoke with a spectrum of races, cultures, and classes who appeared to value aspects of personal success, achievement and happiness—over concern for others.
Almost 80 percent selected high achievement or happiness as their top choice, while roughly 20 percent selected caring for others.
AND THE ANSWER IS…
Our youth’s values appear to be awry, and the messages that adults are sending may be at the heart of the problem. I asked students to rank what was most important to them: achieving at a high level, happiness (feeling good most of the time), or caring for others.
Some made it quite clear that their self-interest is paramount: “If you are not happy, life is nothing. After that, you want to do well. And after that, expend any excess energy on others.”
But when our kids do not prioritize caring and fairness over these aspects of personal success — and when they view their peers as even less likely to prioritize these ethical values—they are at greater risk of many forms of harmful behavior, including being cruel, disrespectful, and dishonest.
THE RHETORIC / REALITY GAP
At the root of this problem may be a rhetoric/reality gap, a gap between what parents and other adults say are their top priorities and the real messages they convey in their behavior day to day.
Most parents and teachers say that developing caring students is a top priority. However, those I spoke with aren’t buying it.
About 75 percent of students say their parents are more concerned about achievement or happiness than caring for others. A similar percentage of students perceive teachers as prioritizing students’ achievements over their caring.
The solution is straightforward, but not easy. To begin, we’ll have to stop passing the buck. While Americans worry a great deal about children’s moral state, no one seems to think that they’re part of the problem.
As parents we all need to take a hard look at the messages we send to our kids while they’re climbing to the top of Mt. College. In a world where academic achievement is treated as the primary driver of college acceptance, perhaps we need some help from the colleges themselves.
Its time students learn that “community services hours” should actually mean something in the scheme of things as opposed to being just a check box on a college app.
A MENTAL HEALTH COUNSELOR CONCURS
“I agree that the college admissions process is strongly positioned to send various messages that help young people become more mindful and compassionate in ways that benefit their communities, society and the students themselves. High school students often perceive colleges as simply valuing their academic achievements, not their leadership and responsibility for others and their communities,” said South Florida based Mental Health Counselor Lori Moldovan IMH.
OUT OF THE MOUTH OF BABES
The backbone of my Student Success Project is the belief that students of all ages who prioritize caring for others will become community members and citizens who can strengthen our democracy, mend the fractures that divide us, and create a more caring, just world.
That’s fine and good, but students are also three times more likely to agree than disagree with this statement: “My parents are prouder if I get good grades in my classes than if I’m a caring community member in class and school.”
This column is by Ritchie Lucas, Founder of The Student Success Project and Think Factory Consulting. He can be reached at 305-788-4105 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Facebook and You Tube as The Student Success Project. Lori Moldovan IMH can be reached at 786-747-2855. She frequently works with adolescents dealing with anxiety, depression and substance issues.