In a thoughtful article for Brain, Child magazine, Catherine Newman wonders why we even bother to teach our children the values of sharing and cooperation when “our national ethos is the hoarding of food and medicine, land and resources, like the good capitalists that we are? Congratulations! We’ll say when they turn twenty-one. Now you can start drinking and stop behaving ethically!”
Recognizing that the systems and myths of our culture help to justify the growing divide between the “haves” and “have-nots” will help parents find ways to help our children understand these inequalities before the realization hits them in their teens that the world is full of hypocrisy.
Parents who regularly engage in social action projects can find ways to bring their children along and actively involve them, but we can also use teachable moments to communicate that although we believe sharing and cooperation are ideal, they are not always a reality in our world. Reading books together such as The Lunch Thief by Anne Bromley or One Grain of Rice by Demi can raise discussions about inequities in the world. For older children or teens, movies such as Hotel Rwanda or Blood Diamond can expose them to some of these same issues. News reports or newspaper articles can also open the doors to questions and discussions about the realities of our world.
Ultimately, however, we parents need to support our adolescents in discovering how they can stand up for themselves and speak assertively without offending others. We can also help them express themselves confidently as they address the wrongs they wish to have righted.
We can encourage them to recognize the inequities of the world and do the right thing even when they feel outnumbered or intimidated by others who disagree with them. In short, they need us to be their allies as they adapt to the larger culture where their perspective may not often be valued or even acknowledged as legitimate.
Photograph above ©knape/iStockphoto
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Michelle Richards is the author of Tending the Flame: The Art of Unitarian Universalist Parenting (Skinner House, 2010).