Home Family Early Childhood What Really Makes a Good Kid? A Global Perspective on Parenting Values

What Really Makes a Good Kid? A Global Perspective on Parenting Values


A Global Shift in Parenting Priorities

Remember when good manners and obedience used to be the hallmark qualities of a “good kid”? Well, times are changing. According to a new study by King’s College London, different countries now prioritize different traits in children, and it’s not all about being polite or obedient. So what’s going on?

The Declining Importance of Manners in the U.S.

Once a cornerstone of American upbringing, the emphasis on good manners has seen a notable decline over the years. Back in 1990, an overwhelming majority of 76% of American adults believed that good manners were a critical part of raising children. By 2017, that number had fallen to 52%, making the United States the country least likely to prioritize politeness among the youth. This statistic is more than just a number; it reflects changing societal norms and values.

Why the Sudden Change?

Evolving Societal Norms

In a society where traditional norms are continually being questioned and redefined, the weight given to good manners has lessened. People are now embracing a broader range of behaviors and lifestyles, reducing the rigidity that once accompanied etiquette and manners. For example, the once-typical ideal of a child who says “please” and “thank you,” holds doors for elders, and never speaks out of turn has become less crucial in the American parenting handbook.

The Role of Technology

The digital age, with its array of social media platforms and communication tools, has drastically altered interpersonal interactions. With emojis, shorthand texting, and casual online conversations becoming the norm, the formalities of politeness have found less room in daily communications, particularly among younger generations.

A Focus on Individuality

American culture has long celebrated individualism, and this trait has increasingly taken center stage. Rather than teaching children to conform to societal expectations around manners, the focus has shifted towards nurturing individual strengths, encouraging creativity, and fostering self-expression.

New Priorities – Independence and Hard Work

While manners might be declining in perceived importance, other qualities are taking their place on the parenting pedestal. Independence is now a highly-valued trait, indicative of a child’s ability to think critically and make decisions autonomously. This is reflected in the 56% of American adults who prioritize it, placing the U.S. seventh in global rankings for this particular value.

Hard work also garners significant importance in modern American families. About 68% of adults believe this quality is crucial for children, representing the highest percentage across the categories where the U.S. ranks among the top 10 countries. The belief here is that hard work breeds success and offers a pathway to achieving the American Dream.

Where Manners Still Matter Most

Head over to Egypt, and you’ll find a stark contrast. In Egypt, good manners aren’t just seen as a nice-to-have quality; they are considered a crucial part of an individual’s upbringing. A staggering 96% of adults in the country believe that teaching manners should be a top priority in parenting. This makes Egypt the leader in placing the highest value on courtesy and politeness in children, a stark contrast to the declining trend observed in countries like the United States. Nigeria and Morocco also prioritize manners highly, with 89% and 88% of adults, respectively, agreeing on its importance.

Why Is There Such a Strong Emphasis on Manners in These Countries?

It could be rooted in religious or cultural traditions that value respect for elders and authority figures.

A Reflection of Respect

In these countries, the importance placed on manners goes beyond simple politeness. It reflects deep-rooted cultural beliefs that stress the importance of respect, especially towards elders and authority figures. This respect is often exhibited in various ways, such as specific greetings for older individuals, listening attentively when they speak, and offering them the first choice in matters of food or seating.

The Role of Religion

Religious teachings also play a significant role in these attitudes. In predominantly Muslim countries like Egypt, Morocco, and Nigeria, Islamic teachings emphasize the importance of good character and respect for others, especially elders and parents. The concept of “Adab” in Islamic culture refers to the ethics of proper conduct and is deeply woven into daily life.

Community Over Individualism

In contrast to the American focus on individualism, these countries often prioritize the community and the family unit over the individual. Thus, manners are not just a personal quality but a societal expectation that helps maintain harmony and good relations within the community. Parents, schools, and religious institutions all take it upon themselves to instill these values in children from a young age.

Why Manners Still Hold Strong

While some countries see manners as an old-fashioned concept that’s lost its place in the modern world, in places like Egypt, Nigeria, and Morocco, they continue to be cherished. This isn’t because these nations are clinging to the past, but because manners, for them, fulfill essential social functions. They serve as a way to show respect, uphold tradition, and maintain social harmony—values that are still highly esteemed.

Listening to Parents – The Forgotten Virtue?

Now, what about obedience? In the U.S., it’s even less of a priority than manners, standing at a mere 21%. Compare that to Nigeria, where 58% consider obedience to be key, and you begin to see the cultural discrepancies.

Obedience vs. Independence

While some countries prioritize listening to parents, many Western nations, including the U.S., have shifted their focus towards encouraging independence in children. The data supports this, showing a decline in the importance placed on obedience since 1990.

What Else Counts as a ‘Good Quality’?

The study doesn’t stop at just manners and obedience. It also looks at qualities like hard work, imagination, and tolerance.

America’s New Gold Standards: Hard Work and Independence

In America, hard work is among the top-valued traits for children, with 68% of adults considering it important. Independence isn’t far behind, at 56%. These numbers put the U.S. in the top 10 rankings for these attributes.

Tolerance – The Universal Virtue

Across the globe, tolerance and respect for others was the most commonly valued trait, with even the lowest-ranking country, Iran, showing a 40% rate. In the U.S., this stood at a respectable 71%, ranking it 11th among the countries surveyed.

Parenting in a Changing World

The idea of what makes a “good kid” is not set in stone; it’s ever-changing and influenced by a multitude of factors, including cultural background, societal norms, and personal beliefs. And that’s okay. What’s important is to understand that raising children is not a one-size-fits-all task. Different qualities will be important in different contexts, and that’s a beautiful thing.

Written by
Clara Underwood

Clara is a lifestyle writer, outdoors enthusiast, and a mother of two. She writes about everything from weekend family outings in nature to fostering emotional intelligence in children. Clara believes that a balanced family life is the cornerstone of a healthy society.

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