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What Do Our Kids Need More: Manners Or Empathy?​

By now, you've probably seen the mannequin challenge. It's everywhere these days and it's even found its way to Sesame Street.

In this adorable behind-the-scenes clip everyone on Sesame Street has frozen for this very special challenge.

That is until Ernie alerts Burt to one very important detail: his untied shoe laces! The scene breaks when Burt bends down to tie them up and everyone groans.

For years, and for most of us, Sesame Street has been a staple in American homes. I can't imagine my childhood without Ernie and his best buddy Burt, Cookie Monster, Oscar The Grouch and yes, even Elmo.

The show is often a tired parent's go-to for educational entertainment. That's why this new survey conducted by Sesame Workshop is so important.

According to the survey called K is for Kind: A National Survey on Kindness and Kids, parents would prefer that their kids learn manners before empathy.

That's right.

The majority of parents believed that it is more important for their children (aged 3-12) to be polite than to be empathetic, considerate of others, or helpful.

According to the Washington Post article that reported on the findings, American parents are getting it wrong. In fact, this kind of thinking might be the reason for the decline of empathy in college-age youth since the late 1970s.

Years of academic research has identified that empathy (the ability to walk a mile in someone else's shoes) is one of the most important qualities that ensure future success.

How did we get it wrong?

The article has a few answers, one of them being simple misunderstanding. Another survey asked parents to define empathy, and many of them confused it with sympathy.

So, it's possible that they understood the original question to mean: "which is more important: manners or feeling sorry for people?"

The second possibility: parents believe that their children are too young to naturally feel empathy toward others, so manners will teach them how to have empathy. But if that really worked, empathy studies would show an increase in understanding since the 1970s - rather than the decrease we're seeing now.

Third, American parents have a value system that favors politeness and manners over empathy. But there are ways that a parent can teach both. In fact, a parent who focuses on teaching empathy will find that this actually reinforces good manners in their children.

Don't worry, the kids are alright:

Jennifer Kotler Clarke, vice president of research and evaluation at Sesame Workshop, has high hopes for American parents though. She turns to our love for Oscar the Grouch and Cookie Monster:

"Neither is very polite (Cookie Monster has notoriously terrible table manners), but both are incredibly empathetic. The fact that these two are among the most relatable and beloved characters in the near 50-year history of "Sesame Street" — among both children and adults — suggests that we do all have our priorities straight. We just don't know it yet.

What do you think? Are manners or is empathy more important?

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