Dr. Richard Weissbourd, child and family psychologist on the faculty of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and School of Education, spoke to guests Thursday evening in Larson Hall as part of Derby Academy’s Speaker Series.
His presentation, “How do we Raise Caring, Ethical, and Happy Children?” shared research and personal anecdotes from his work as the co-director of the Making Caring Common Project on moral development, and addressed his concern about the degree to which we have elevated achievement and happiness as the primary goals of childhood, while demoting concern for others.
“We’re out of balance,” Weissbourd said. “We have gone too far on the side of weighing achievement and happiness and undervaluing attention to others.”
This scenario presents a rhetoric-reality gap, which creates a need for moral and ethical development, Weissbourd said. “Morality, by definition, requires sacrifice,” he stressed. “Standing up for important principles can be very painful. Tell kids to be caring, because it’s caring. Be moral, because it’s moral. Do what’s right, because it’s right.”
The key to raising kind, courageous, and moral children, he stressed, is to make those values a priority in parenting. Parents can express this commitment in several ways:
With everyday conversation, and ensuring kids are respectful in day-to-day activities, or situations that build their capacity for respect, care, and kindness. In addition, parents can work on expanding their child’s circle of concern – do they have empathy for others outside of friends and family?
Parents can also encourage their kids to be ethical philosophers and examine what they are modeling to children. Ask, “Do my behaviors practice what I am hoping to instill?” Children will adopt these qualities if they respect their parents. Finally, parents should obtain objective feedback about parenting choices from trusted friends.
“It takes individual acts of courage,” Weissbourd said. “It’s really about the quality, and not the quantity. It’s not about the number of AP courses you take, it’s not about the number of extra-curricular activity you take… It is about meaningful and intellectual engagement, and meaningful ethical engagement. It takes schools and individuals working collectively.”