Pop quiz!!!! If you asked your teen right now whether he/she thought you valued academic
accomplishment over caring deeds as a parent, what do you think he/she would say. If you guessed caring deeds, you might be wrong. In a recent survey at Harvard, they sampled 10,000 teens from 33 schools across the country, asking them to rank order what they thought was most important in their life. Results were that 80% said academic achievement was #1, with personal happiness coming in second, and caring deeds a distant third! When asked why, here is what they answered:
"Much of that pressure, teens reported, comes from their parents and teachers who praise them for educational successes and make it clear that school work needs to be a number one priority."
This is teen selective hearing at it's best. I am sure that most parents teach their kids that doing for others, and being kind and caring is the most important quality one can have as a person. But because that is not part of the daily conversation as kids get older, what your teen hears daily and hourly probably once they get home from school is: "How much homework do you have? How did you do on your test today? You better get that project started if you want to get a good grade! You better pick those grades up if you want to get into XYZ college. " When is the last time a "how was school" conversation started with a so what good deed did you do today to help someone out."
When our kids are young we spend a lot of time asking them to be kind and caring, probably because school is not yet taking up the emotional and cognitive space that learning how to be a good friend, how to be a good member of the family, etc is. Building the foundation for being a caring and good person starts in childhood. But in like a lion comes the stage of self-centered adolescence. Chores, community service, or calling a grandma that lives on the other side of the country become things they feel they have to do, and resent your asking.
Some of these findings I do think represent the normal narcissism of the teenage years. BUT, I do think that teens perception that parents put academic accomplishment as a list topper. So what can you do. First how is caring modeled in your family? What do they see you doing to show this quality? Besides being there for your immediate family, what ways do you communicate caring about others? When you are at a restaurant with your teens, or doing errands with them how do you treat those service workers. Are you easily annoyed or impatient with them, or do you regularly show your appreciation for their jobs. Are you engaged with neighbors, and help out other families even when it might be inconvenient. Do you acknowledge when you are treated kindly by others, especially when you least expect it. These are all ways that kids get the message, this is important stuff. Living a good life is living a balanced life. There is nothing wrong with having high academic expectations, and wanting them to be successful. As you long as you balance that message!!
Just for fun do the pop quiz with your teen. You might be surprised by their answer!