Open Your Ears and You'll Open Your Eyes

Yep. On occasion, I yelled at my kids. Sometimes I let them talk me into buying them things that they really didn't need because in the moment, it was simpler than any other kind of negotiation. (Hey, I was a tired, working, single mom!) I doled out allowances--but not consistently (and sometimes my kids forgot to remind me, so it clearly wasn't that important to them). And I have a boxful of participation trophies in the basement that may or may not have been meaningful to my kids at the time--and certainly mean very little now that they're young adults.

Miraculously, my two seem to have grown up all right. They finished college. They successfully hold down jobs in their chosen fields, and they pay their bills on time. They talk to me often. They have friends and seem happy.

So would I have done anything differently if I'd had the benefit of knowing the results of the 2015 State of the Kid™ (SOTK) survey conducted by Highlights® magazine? I think so.

If, for example, I'd known that nearly 8 out of 10 kids think discipline helps them behave better, I might have dispensed more of it--or talked more about why I was doing it. At the very least, I wouldn't have worried so much about being a "mean" mom. If I'd known that kids were so adept at interpreting "the look" parents give when their kids misbehave, I might have used my facial expressions more and my vocal cords less to teach them appropriate behavior. (Sixty-five percent of kids say their parents yell or use other verbal cues when they're in trouble--but who likes to be yelled at? And, for that matter, who likes to yell to be taken seriously?)

I also might have been a little less indulgent. Fewer than half the kids who took our poll said they receive an allowance, and ten percent of them said they don't do chores to earn it. A whopping 32 percent admitted that if they want to convince their parents to buy them something, they beg for it, presumably successfully. Having been on the receiving end of that, I can safely say it's no fun. And experts say it's not good for kids, either. A T. Rowe Price 2015 study of 1,000 parents and 881 children suggests that kids who get an allowance are more money-savvy than those who do not. Experts say kids benefit from having experience with their own money--having it, and learning how to both spend and save it.

And what about those participation trophies? It's no surprise that three in five kids think everyone deserves a trophy. More than half of older kids, 11- to-12-year-olds, say only winners deserve recognition. But the idea of recognizing all participants speaks to most children's understanding of "fairness"--and recognition for all has probably been their experience. Maybe we parents need to ask ourselves a question: do we make too much of these participation trophies and ribbons? A study by The Ohio State University suggests that overvaluing participation rewards may lead to narcissism in our children and may fail to contribute to healthy self-esteem. I think it's too late for me to do as Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison plans to do--return his sons' participation trophies--but I think I can safely toss that box of ribbons and trophies in my basement.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway of the 2015 SOTK survey--and the previous 7 years of surveys--is the importance of actively listening to our kids. They're watching and thinking about--well, everything they see and hear, and when we listen to what they have to say, we are given another lens through which we can view and understand them. And understanding their perspectives is key to helping them become their best selves--curious, creative, confident, and caring.

You can read the full report on It could spark some interesting dinner-table conversation with your kids tonight. Prepare to listen.

Christine French Cully

Christine French Cully is Chief Purpose Officer and Editor in Chief at Highlights for Children. As Chief Purpose Officer, Cully’s focus is on growing awareness and implementation of the Highlights purpose, core beliefs, and values—to help actualize the organization’s vision for a world where all children can become people who can change the world for the better....