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Why Doesn't My
Child Help Others
Is your child between the ages of 7 and 12? Have you noticed that in recent times, they have become less inclined to come to the aid of, or help others when they are in need?
For example, imagine Tom is 7 years old. He is playing in his front yard and notices his neighbour, Jerry, who is 12 years old, fall out of a tree. It looks like Jerry has really hurt himself as he is screaming and appears to be unable to stand up. Tom knows that Jerry’s parents aren’t home because he saw Jerry’s mum drive away a few minutes ago. Tom, however, does not run over to help Jerry.
When you first read this you might think Tom is a snotty little kid with no empathy what-so-ever. It is easy to make a judgment in this situation, but, think about this for a second. The reason Tom has not rushed over to Jerry’s aid could be something as simple as, Tom’s mother has told him that he is not allowed to leave the yard under any circumstances, or Tom may never have crossed the street without an adult present.
First of all, I want to reassure you (particularly if you have observed your child doing something similar) that this is not uncommon behaviour for children within this age group. Unfortunately, researchers have observed an interesting phenomenon which is thought to be due to a perceived conflict in the child’s mind between obeying authority and assisting a person in need.
Researchers have actually tested this by setting up a scenario whereby a child was placed in a room to complete an activity, with an adult present. Once the child was settled, the adult said they needed to leave the room for a moment. Within moments of the adult leaving the room, the child could hear another child screaming in the next room. In this experiment, the researchers found that children who were between the ages of 7 and 12 were the least likely to run into the next room and check on the screaming child.
So does this mean all children between the ages of 7 and 12 are evil? Fear not, the researchers wondered whether the children may have thought they were not allowed to leave the room, even though no-one had told them they couldn’t. With this idea in mind, the researchers tested a second scenario where they told the children they could leave the room if they needed more pencils. In this scenario, almost every child attended when they heard the other child screaming (one child actually broke their pencil so as to make sure the rules for “leaving the room” were followed!).
So what this means is, children from around the age of 7 to 12 may find they are conflicted between what they have been told by adults or authority figures (or even what they perceive they are or aren’t allowed to do in certain situations) and helping out another person in scenarios like these (I think school may have some influence here, I clearly remember being told off for lending a pencil to a class mate when hers broke during “quite time” as a kid... whoops, better not do that again!).
So what can you do to make sure your child understands the difference between “following the rules” and when it’s OK to break them in order to help another person? Head over to our strategies section for some tips on teaching your children about "Knowing When It's OK to Help Others".
Reeve, J. (2005). Understanding Motivation and Emotion: Fourth Edition. John Wiley & Sons: Danvers
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