Hopes for Children: What can kids do in our troubled world?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Hopes for Children
Malala Yousafzai's photo has been added to the colorful exhibition at the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway. This photo was posted to Wilkimedia Commons just hours after her Peace Prize was announced.

Malala Yousafzai’s photo has been added to the colorful exhibition at the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway. This photo was posted to Wilkimedia Commons just hours after her Peace Prize was announced.

What can a child do?

Plenty! That’s the word from the committee giving the next Nobel Peace Prize to Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi “for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.”

At 17, Malala is the youngest-ever recipient of the prestigious prize. (You can read more about Malala and other extraordinary young women this week in our own Interfaith Peacemakers section.)

Children can be heroes—like 12-year-old Kamal Nepali, who rescued a two-year-old girl who had fallen into a gorge carved by the Seti River near Pokhara, Nepal. The child was trapped in a crevice so narrow that adults couldn’t reach her. Kamal was small enough to fit in, and he volunteered to do it. The adults lowered him into the darkness of the crevice, and he emerged later with the girl strapped to his back. (ListVerse magazine has more details about Nepali’s story.)

Pew chart on regions of the world and optimism about children 2014

Click this chart to read more at the Pew website.

From small acts of kindness to extraordinary events, children can do a lot in our troubled world.

Parents around the globe envision a better world for their children, according to new reports from Pew. Many people predict that their children will be better off than their parents.

But this optimism is not spread evenly around the world.

Can you guess which region is the most optimistic about their children’s future? Hands down, it’s Asia. Well over half (58%) of Asians are optimistic about their children’s future. Only 24% are not.

Which region is the most pessimistic? It’s Europe, according to the Pew Research Center. Sixty-five percent of Europeans predict that their children’s future will be bleaker than their parents’ experiences. Only 25% are optimistic about their children’s future.

What can a kid do?

What do you hope kids will achieve?

THIS WEEK’S OurValues series by sociologist Dr. Wayne Baker is great for sparking discussion among friends. Please, use our blue-“f” Facebook icons or envelope-shaped email icons to share this column with friends. Or, simply leave a Comment below.

Hopes for Children: Does it all boil down to good genes?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Hopes for Children
WHAT CAN TWINS TELL US? This photo of twin sisters was uploaded for public use in Wikimedia Commons by Oudeschool.

WHAT CAN TWINS TELL US? This photo of twin sisters was uploaded for public use in Wikimedia Commons by Oudeschool.

ALL Parents hope their children will do well and be happy.

When it comes to school, all parents want their kids to get good grades, and some go to great lengths to coach, prod, and spur them to earn high marks. Could it be, however, that the main influence of parents on grades is their genes?

The answer is yes, according to a new study, but genes aren’t the whole story.

It’s been known for a long time that variations in the educational achievement of children depend, in part, on the genes children inherit. A new study, just published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, sheds new light on the nature-nurture debate.

The researchers focused on identical twins because these twins inherit exactly the same sets of genes from their parents. Fraternal twins don’t. Like other siblings fraternal twins share only 50% of their genes.

The researchers studies how well 13,306 16-year-old twins in the United Kingdom scored on a national exam known as the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). They measured intelligence but also many other factors, such as self-efficacy, personality, well-being, and various behavior problems.

Intelligence was a big predictor of scores on this national exam in the areas of math, English, and science. But others factors mattered just as much, including self-efficacy, personality traits, behavioral issues, and what the teens thought of their school environment. Many of these factors, however, are influenced indirectly by the genes children inherit.

Does this mean that parents’ chief role is the transmission of their genes? Not at all. In a column about their study, the researchers argue for personalized learning: “At a practical level, our findings add support for the trend in education toward personalized rather than a one-size fits all model. None of this means that schools, parents, or teachers aren’t important. Of course they are—and each has an important role in helping children achieve the best of their potential.”

Where do you come out on the nature-nurture debate?

Does academic performance boil down to good genes?

Hopes for Children: Why are parents in rich nations pessimistic?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Hopes for Children
CLICK THE CHART to visit the Pew website and learn more about these reports.

CLICK THE CHART to visit the Pew website and learn more about these reports.

Rising affluence usually translates into optimism about the future. One of the chief findings from the vast World Values Surveys is that economic development generally elevates happiness, well-being, and satisfaction with life.

Why, then, are so many people in affluent societies pessimistic about their children’s future?

The majority of Americans and Europeans don’t believe today’s children will be better off financially than their parents, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center. In fact, the citizens of most of the countries with advanced economies are pretty gloomy about their children’s prospects. Conversely, the citizens of many emerging-market societies see a bright future for their children.

The reason for these differences is the rate of economic development. This is shown clearly in this graph from Pew. Those who live in nations with the fastest GDP growth are optimistic about their children’s future. China and Vietnam are prime examples. Nations with slow growth (like the US) or negative growth (like Italy or Spain) exhibit lots of pessimism.

Other factors matter, of course. Argentineans, Lebanese, and Tanzanians are experiencing fast GDP growth, but they are less optimistic than they should be, given their rate of economic change. Conversely, Ukrainians have experienced negative economic growth but they are more optimistic than nations with similar economic experiences.

How optimistic or pessimistic are you about the future prospects of today’s children?

Are your surprised that so many people in affluent societies are pessimistic about their children’s future?

Hopes for Children: Is our success determined by outside forces?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Hopes for Children
Pew chart on whether success is determined by outside forces

CLICK on this chart to visit the Pew website for more.

Have you ever heard of the self-serving bias?

It’s the tendency to attribute our successes to ourselves and to blame our failures on outside factors. For example, you got your dream job because you were supremely qualified for it. Or, you didn’t get your dream job because the interviewer was prejudiced.

Now, consider your children’s successes and failures. How do you explain them?

People around the world vary considerably in their views about the causes of success in life, according to new data from Pew’s global attitudes survey.

Among economically developed societies, Americans are the least likely to say that success in life is determined by forces outside our control—only 40% of Americans attribute success to outside factors.

At the other end, South Koreans are the most likely to attribute success to outside forces—almost three of four (74%) do so.

Are Americans the least likely of all nations to attribute success to outside factors? That would be a good guess, since our core values include self-reliance and individualism. And, it’s a pretty good guess, according to Pew, but not entirely correct.

Of the 44 countries Pew surveyed, only four had a lower percentage than the U.S. of those who agreed that success in life is determined by outside forces: Columbia, Mexico, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. The first three are considered emerging economies, while the fourth is classified as a developing economy.

To what do you attribute your successes and failures?

When children don’t live up to our hopes, do we blame them—or outside factors?

Hopes for Children: Can a Positive Post-It Day help our kids?

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Hopes for Children

Positive Post It Note Day on YouTube

WANT HOPE? Maybe we should ask kids how our communities can improve life for the next generation. Kids have far more ideas than we may appreciate as adults.

Recently the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize was announced. You can read inspiring profiles of Malala Yousafzai, who will be receiving the prize, in Daniel Buttry’s Interfaith Peacemakers section of this website. And Malala is not alone. Buttry also profiles another youthful visionary: Mayerly Sanchez. Malala and Mayerly now are known around the world, as I pointed out on Monday in the first part of this series.

Now I’m reminding readers: A kid near you may be cooking up a hopeful idea at this very moment.

Today, we consider the story of a teenager who was bullied at school and countered it with a novel response: positivity. And her positivity spread far beyond the halls of her school. Her name is Cailtin Haacke, a student at George McDougall High School in Airdrie, Alberta. She was the victim of bullying.  Students swiped her iPad and posted a message on her Facebook page—telling her to die.

Caitlin decided to fight back—with kindness. She brought in a stack of post-it notes with messages of inspiration and affirmation, and posted one on every locker in the school. This story was covered in the Canadian media, and has been repeated on many web sites. The video about her efforts already has drawn well over 1 million viewers on YouTube.

Caitlin’s positive idea spread. Positive Post-It Day was organized several days later, and the Airdrie City Council passed a resolution supporting it. Caitlin took an instance of bullying and changed the world with positivity.

Can children change the world?

What are your hopes for our children?

Can positivity counter bullying?