If your middle school-aged child balks at the thought of helping out around the house, you’re probably not the only parent dealing with this attitude. According to a new study conducted by the University of Rochester, the desire to care for others declines in kids between the ages of 10 and 16—and doesn't level off until the late teenage years. The results are published in Developmental Psychology.
More than 3,500 American adolescents participated in the study, in which they were given a series of five questions that focused on social responsibility. Each of the questions began with “It’s very important to me" and ended with "to help those who are less fortunate," "to help people in my community," "to serve my country," "to help my society," and "to help other students in school." The participants responded using a 5-point scale that ranged from strongly disagree to strongly agree.
The results of the questionnaire suggested that the values of social responsibility, which the researchers defined as "[those] that support caring for the welfare of others," decrease between the ages of 10 to 16, and then level off in the later teenage years. The reasoning? An adolescent's desire to care for others is directly linked to the amount of support they feel they're receiving from others.
“Young people often perceive relationships they have as being less supportive during middle and early high school years,” Laura Wray-Lake, one the study’s researchers, said in a statement. “Our study showed that youth perceptions of supports from parents, school, friends, and the community decreased across adolescence.”
When the participants in the study felt supported, however, the researchers saw an increase in social responsibility—offering parents some hope.
"Relationships with parents, schools, and peers do get more complex during adolescence, and some young people may start to feel less bonded to those around them," Wray-Lake said. "But, if a student has support from their parents and their school, and they also have supportive friends, those relationships are going to give them a boost in terms of prosocial engagement."
And don't forget to find support for yourself, too. After all, mothers of middle-school children are the most stressed and depressed, according to another recent study.