What Happened to the Good Old Days?

May 15, 2018

We often hear older generations talking about days gone by, and how the younger generation “just isn’t the same.”  They reflect on days when manners and propriety prevailed, when kids only spoke when spoken to, and they called their elders M’am and Sir, Mr. and Mrs.

Parents today tend to agree that children have lost that adherence to courtesy, but they speak to wanting more than that:  how do families instill core values in their kids to be conscious of social justice and serving a purpose greater than meeting their own needs.  This seems almost impossible in an age where advertisements suck us all into focusing on working more to buy more, to have more, to be the best….It is too easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of capitalism, and then wonder what went wrong when we hear our teenagers whining over when they can upgrade their iphone or buy the hottest Jordans.

We lose sight as parents of a very basic principle--young children have an intense awareness of and passion for fairness. “How come he gets to have that, and I can’t? It’s not fair!” They demand right over wrong, just over unjust and they notice differences without discomfort. Parents of young children can build on this inherent affinity for justice to highlight this as a core family value.  Intentional discussions about values with young children, and pairing those discussions with civic family activities, can help young people develop their own identities as civic leaders.

How exactly do we guide our kids towards a concern for others and a desire for social justice in our world?  How do we raise children to stand up against unfair practices? Raising children with social justice values is not much different than raising a child who values academics, sports, or art. We already do this on a daily basis; we help our children with their homework to value education, we sign them up for art class and sports so they will become well-rounded human beings, and we discipline them when they do something wrong so they will become responsible adults.

Just as we raise our children to value learning in the classroom or on the courts, we can raise them to have values that include service to others and social justice.

Here are a few ideas to consider when raising children to have social justice values:

  1. Help children to be self-aware.Start by having a discussion around the multiple identities that make them who they are. This discussion can include how they identify in terms of gender, race, class and sexual orientation.  General conversations can be initiated about about oppressions and privileges that come with different identities.

    A white family may take this opportunity to talk about white privilege with a white child, and describe the opportunities that young white people have in a country that is rooted in genocide and slavery, and doesn’t afford the same opportunities, even to this day, to young people of color.  A family of color may explain to their son/daughter the particular concerns about interactions with police and specific safety tips to keep in mind when pulled over for traffic violations.   Building a child’s consciousness about their social identity at a young age teaches them to be insightful and curious.  This will build a platform for compassion toward peers and with this understanding of power and privilege, there is a greater likelihood that these kids will be inclined to stand up against injustice.

  1. Engage in dialogue. Whether through finding and reading books about young leaders and activists, or pointing out daily injustices, it’s that consistent dialogue about equity and inequities that will push our children to not only be aware of these issues but to hold a certain set of values. Our children need to be aware that there is more than just a single story and we have to encourage them to question stereotypes and be critical thinkers. Children are exposed at a young age to news and social media that portray acts of racism, oppression, and violence. It’s important that we take an active role in pointing out and explaining to our children where these issues stem from and provide a space for them to ask critical questions. Having critical dialogue with your children about what they are seeing on the news, on their social media feeds, orin their song lyrics, will give them a heightened awareness of the complexities of the world in which we live, which can ultimately turn their understanding into their commitment to do something, to act to create a better community, a better world.

  2. Let your children talk. Do not perpetuate the idea that we should be “colorblind” to racial differences or stop them from talking when they notice someone with a difference. Most parents tend to stop their children from talking about these topics because they may personally feel uncomfortable with talking about prejudices in our society or because we want to be polite, but doing so does not do anything to promote social justice values, rather it perpetuates oppression and will most likely encourage your children to stay quiet when they observe bad things happening. Noticing differences is inevitable in a world divided by stereotypes and prejudice. Rather than attempting to “protect” your children from the oppressive systems that plague our society, we can highlight these issues and take these moments as teaching opportunities to honor all of the rich and diverse identities that make up our community and our nation. Sometimes it may be uncomfortable because young people aren’t afraid to speak what they have been taught, but the “unlearning” happens so much easier at a young age.

  3. Lead by example. By walking your talk, you become the person your children want to follow. Our children are very receptive and soak in every encounter they observe, hear and experience. If our children don’t see us living a life driven by the values we tell them we want them to have, they will call us out.  We must be mindful of our own implicit biases.  We must be accountable when we make mistakes. For example, when we say we believe women should be leaders and it is ok for men to be homemakers, how do our conversations with friends reflect those beliefs?  How do we intentionally create a gender fluid space will provide children the foundation for challenging traditional ways of thinking and being.

  4. Encourage and motivate your children. As your children embark on their journey towards incorporating social justice values into their life, encourage them and continue to show them the love and support they need to maintain their social justice lens. Like you would praise your child for helping out a friend or for cleaning their room, consistent words of encouragement will motivate them to want to engage more in showing empathy, compassion and action. Encourage your children to stay curious and provide opportunities for learning, growth and action.

Raising children to have social justice values is not an easy task in today’s world.But it can be done, and it is this hope in the next generation that has kept this country forging ahead in times of unrest and uncertainty.

For more ideas on raising kids with social justice values, visit www.drdonnahocks.com and read about her work with developing Dignity Agents.

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