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It's not more education children need, it's better character

Over the past 60 years, soft skills like agency, application, initiative, and emotional intelligence – traits that we argue describe one's character – have become far more important to success in labour market, in developing strong relationships and families, and in contributing to one's general well-being.

As social mobility has stalled during this same period, opportunities to develop strong character are becoming more and more the privilege of already advantaged children.  Through an exploration of developmental psychology, parenting technique, and social change, Demos seeks to understand when and how good character develops and what the implications are for parents, communities, and public policy.

Psychology shows that the early years and antenatal period are the most important times for child development – the scaffolding for key life skills and character traits is built from birth: when babies learn that crying brings (or will not bring) parental intervention, parents set the groundwork for the development of agency. Throughout childhood and adolescence, children internalise notions of social and behavioural norms from observing and interacting with their parents and adults close to them.

Over time, it appears that socioeconomic background is increasingly associated with parental effectiveness, which is compounding the inequalities in life chances for children.

Given we know that character development is crucial to children and young people, what is the role of the state and society more broadly in supporting families in developing certain character skills in young people? Do we need to update our ideas about parental responsibility in light of this evidence? These are instinctively difficult questions, perhaps especially for progressives, but if we are serious about promoting equality of opportunity we need to join up a consideration of which factors underpin intergenerational transmission of advantage and disadvantage with parenting policy.

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Building Character
Authors
Jen Lexmond, Richard Reeves
Publication Date
2009-11-09
Publication Type
Pamphlet

Character - empathy, application and self-regulation - counts.  This report looks at the vital impact parents have on forming children's character in the pre-school years.  It makes a case for greater focus on parental support during the early years and places character as the most important 'skill' a child can have.

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