U.S. Parents and Teachers See an Unkind World for Their Children, New Sesame Survey Shows

by Ricardo Castillo


Both Agree that Kindness Is Essential for Future Success, Even More Than Good Grades 

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NEW YORK, NY -- Parents and teachers in the United States worry that their children are living in an unkind world, that people do not go out of their way to help others, and believe that children need strong social-emotional skills to succeed in life, according to a new survey commissioned by Sesame Workshop called “K is for Kind: A National Survey On Kindness and Kids.” 

Nearly three-quarters of parents and almost four-fifths of teachers say they “often” worry the world is an unkind place for children. At the same time, parents and teachers clearly see the importance of having strong social-emotional skills. Almost three-quarters of parents believe it is very important for their child to be accepting of others, to be polite and to have manners while about three-quarters of both parents and teachers prioritize kindness over academic achievement. “Getting good grades” was one of the least important attributes for children with less than half of parents and only about a tenth of teachers describing it as “very important.”

“Sesame undertook this study because we, ourselves, felt that the world seemed to be lacking in empathy and were concerned what the long-term impact of that would be on children and society 

as children grow older,” said Sesame Workshop CEO, Jeffrey D. Dunn. “This survey confirms our concerns. It is time to have a national conversation about kindness. We hope that this is a first step towards doing that.” 

What does kindness mean, exactly? Parents and teachers rank children more highly on being generally “kind” than they do on actual behaviors of kindness, including being “thoughtful” and “helpful.” Furthermore, parents rated being polite as more important than being considerate or helpful, and more than half of the parents surveyed ranked manners more important than empathy.    

“This suggests that we need to focus more on practicing the actual behaviors involved in being kind, not just encouraging an abstract concept of kindness,” said Dr. Jennifer Kotler Clarke, Vice President of Research and Evaluation at Sesame Workshop.

Who is responsible for teaching kindness? Teachers believe parents are not doing enough to cultivate kindness. Less than half of teachers believe that “all” or “most” parents are raising their children to be respectful and only about a third believe “all” or “most” parents are raising children to be empathetic and kind. 

But parents report they are actively teaching kindness to their children. Three-fourths of parents report that they talk to their children at least a few times a week or more about seeing things from other people’s points of view.  As a result, nine in 10 parents describe their own child as kind, and over half of the parents report that their child is more kind than the average child.

Ultimately, most respondents agree that it is incumbent upon all of us to make the world a better place. Over four-fifths of both parents and teachers believe that people are responsible for both their own families and others in society, not just their own families. 

“Many years of research have shown that social-emotional skills – like empathy, kindness and social skills – are critical to success across a variety of different measures as children develop,” said Dr. Stephanie Jones, the Marie and Max Kargman Associate Professor and Co-Director of the Making Caring Common Project at The Harvard Graduate School of Education. “These findings can help spur much needed conversations about how to raise caring and emphatic children.”

For more information on the survey, visit kindness.sesamestreet. org, and to join the conversation on social media, follow #Teach-Kindness.