RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Think, for a moment, what you believe is more important for kids, getting good grades or being kind. A new survey from the educational nonprofit behind "Sesame Street" finds most parents and teachers answer kindness to that question. They're worried that today's children are growing up in an unkind world, as Cory Turner of the NPR Ed Team reports.
CORY TURNER, BYLINE: Kindness is well-trod territory for "Sesame Street." Here's actor Mark Ruffalo pretending to stub his toe to teach a Muppet named Murray about one key to kindness, empathy.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SESAME STREET")
MARK RUFFALO: Murray. Murray...
JOEY MAZZARINO: (As Murray Monster) Oh, that hurts...
RUFFALO: It hurts so much...
MAZZARINO: (As Murray Monster) I can imagine exactly how you feel. Ow.
RUFFALO: That's it.
MAZZARINO: (As Murray Monster) What - what's it?
RUFFALO: That's it. That's empathy.
MAZZARINO: (As Murray Monster) What's empathy?
RUFFALO: You could imagine exactly how I feel. You could understand just how it felt. That's empathy.
TURNER: But the people at Sesame Workshop worry that too much of the world doesn't understand empathy or doesn't try hard enough to feel other people's pain. The survey of some 2,000 parents and 500 teachers found lots of grownups in the U.S. share that fear. A whopping 86 percent of teachers admitted to worrying often that the world is an unkind place for children. And they want to be sure they're helping raise kids into kind, empathetic adults. Jennifer Kotler Clarke is in charge of content research and evaluation at Sesame Workshop.
JENNIFER KOTLER CLARKE: Both parents and educators overwhelmingly felt that being kind was more important than having high academic achievement.
TURNER: But kindness can mean different things to different people. And here's where the results get really interesting. Kotler Clarke says for the survey, they used several different words to represent kindness, including empathy, but also helping, thoughtful and manners.
CLARKE: Parents generally felt that their children were kind but less so helpful and thoughtful.
TURNER: How can a child be kind without being helpful or thoughtful? Well, for parents, being polite was really important. Teachers, on the other hand, valued a different kind of kindness.
CLARKE: Teachers overwhelmingly chose empathy as being more important than manners, where as parents we're more likely to choose manners over empathy.
TURNER: Prioritizing manners over empathy might not be a big deal, assuming there's research that says manners are a good way of building empathy. But Kotler Clarke says...
CLARKE: There's really no great evidence around that. In fact, bullies are very good at having manners around adults.
TURNER: As part of the survey's release, Sesame Workshop also linked to a number of outside resources for parents and teachers looking for practical ways to help cultivate empathy in kids. In one guide from Harvard's Making Caring Common project, researchers recommend grownups really try to tune in to kids emotional and physical needs, engage in community service and even hold regular family meetings. That way, we can have more moments like this.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SESAME STREET")
MAZZARINO: (As Murray Monster) Yes, I get it.
RUFFALO: Yes. Yes...
MAZZARINO: (As Murray Monster) I understand empathy.
RUFFALO: You understand empathy, Murray...
MAZZARINO: (As Murray Monster) I'm so happy right now.
RUFFALO: I'm happy too...
MAZZARINO: (As Murray Monster) It makes me want to dance the dance of happiness.
TURNER: Cory Turner, NPR News, Washington.
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