Do parents have children like them? Well, the kind ones do…

The phrase ‘the apple never falls too far from the tree’ implies that all children are like their parents – but recent research has suggested that it’s the parents who instill kindness and cooperation, rather than selfishness, who are more successful at passing on their values to their kids.

A collaboration between researchers from Royal Holloway and the universities of Westminster, Vienna, and Bern, looked at two studies which investigated the similarity of the values held by parents and their children, who were aged between 6 and 11.

The ‘Schwartz model’ used in this research describes how a person’s values interact and oppose, and categorises values along two different axes: ‘self-transcendence’ (kindness and openness to others) vs ‘self-enhancement’ (being the best and ‘looking out for number one’); and ‘conservation’ (being safe, following the rules, upholding tradition) vs ‘openness to change’ (discovering new things and experimenting).

The studies showed that parents who hoped to pass on the ‘self-transcendence’ values of cooperation and empathy had children who were likely to share those values. However, ‘self-enhancement’ parents, who might want their kids to be the best at the expense of others, tended to have children that were less like them.

The message is that parents who value cooperation over selfishness are more successful at transmitting those values to their children. Whilst there could be a range of reasons, the researchers speculate that this could be because children form a closer bond with ‘pro-social’ parents and are therefore more likely to soak up the values of them.

It is known however that a child’s values are not only shaped by their parents – their peers and other non-family members are also important, and so values can change over time. But in a child’s formative years at least, it seems that the apples of some trees fall closer than those of others.

Read the press release on the research here: https://www.royalholloway.ac.uk/aboutus/newsandevents/news/2016-articles/does-the-apple-fall-far-from-the-tree.aspx

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