09/24/2014 08:42 am ET Updated Sep 24, 2014

Parents Prioritize Responsibility And Hard Work Over Empathy In Children, Survey Finds

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A new report from the Pew Research Center reveals that parents aren't so different from one another after all. For the most part, they care about making sure that their children are responsible and hard-working.

Pew surveyed 3,243 adults, including 815 parents, about 12 qualities, such as being responsible, well-mannered or tolerant. Respondents were asked which of the 12 qualities they believed were important to instill in children, and which three they thought were most essential.

There's widespread agreement among different types of families about which character traits matter most.

Surprisingly, across families of different sizes, ideologies and marital situations, and with children of different ages, respondents agreed about which traits were most important.

"I think in general, parents enter parenthood with a similar matrix of goals, assets and objectives, whether they're single mothers or married mothers or whether they have three kids or one kid," Dr. Brad Sachs, a family psychologist and the author of The Good Enough Child and The Good Enough Teen, told The Huffington Post.

Parents may prioritize being responsible and hard-working so that their kids grow up to be successful.

Respondents agreed on which two qualities were most essential: 94 percent said it was important to be responsible and 92 percent said it was important to be hard-working.

Other traits that topped the list were helping others and being well-mannered, both of which were important to 86 percent of respondents. Independence was important to 79 percent.

Empathy didn't make the top five list for parents, a finding that may be disturbing for people concerned with raising "nice" kids. Dr. Mark Barnett, a psychology professor at Kansas State University who conducts research on empathy, had a hunch about why parents prioritize the way they do.

"Being a responsible, hard-working person will get you a good job and hopefully reasonable income so that you can take care of yourself and your family," Barnett told The Huffington Post. "Empathy is a bit of a luxury in the sense that you have to have your own needs satisfied before you can turn to the needs of others."

But curiosity might be the key to possessing all of the other positive traits.

For Sachs, it was most worrying that curiosity landed at the bottom of the list with 52 percent rating it as important and just 6 percent ranking it among their top three qualities. Sachs said that curiosity is the trait parents should really focus on, because it's the "linchpin" for a number of the other characteristics. Curious children, he noted, naturally want to show empathy, work hard and exhibit many of the other traits included in the survey.

"When those things aren’t happening, it's because something about their self-awareness is missing," Sachs said. "Self-awareness results from curiosity. Who am I? What am I becoming? Those questions are the essence of curiosity, but we spend time focusing on achievement and being well-mannered and obeying. These are relevant and important [traits], but I think they're the outcome of something that's much more profound and elemental."

Ultimately, Barnett cautioned, it's important not to take survey findings like these too literally. He said that it's certainly not a bad thing that parents are trying to instill a bit of grit into their children, even if other characteristics don't get as much attention.

"They're all positive characteristics, positive things to encourage in a child," Barnett said. "So I don't know how much stock I'd put into numbers one and two -- they're just good old American values."



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