Parenting Towards a Better World
August 2017, Week Two (Community)
We have a responsibility to make positive contributions to the community in which we are raising our children. How these contributions occur can be difficult as we try to balance being an involved parent with being aware of what is going on in the world.
This tension was very apparent to me in the aftermath of the tragedy in Charlottesville last Saturday when a man drove a car through a crowd of people protesting a gathering of white supremacists.
Social-Media Justice: Is there a better way?
Our world today is saturated in social-media. In such a world it can be easy to limit our contributions to causes of justice in our community to Facebook posts and twitter attacks. I share this struggle. I want people to know how I feel on these important issues, but the hate that is spewed on social media platforms leaves me feeling unable to contribute to the social media conversation. Is there more for us to do as citizens of our community than share posts and contribute to heated online debates? Are there better ways we can lead our families to respond in the aftermath of tragedies such as these?
These are questions I often wrestle. I do not have the answers, but I do have some suggestions for how to start, how to work towards a meaningful contribution, and how to begin teaching our children a better way to respond to injustice.
Bringing Awareness to Children
Often it is assumed social media contributes positively to social justice because of the awareness it brings. Perhaps there are ways to utilize social media to these ends, but the amount of hate present in these conversations leaves one feeling if there is not a better means. Further, research on social media awareness campaigns is generally at only the beginning stages but one weakness of social media that has been found is that the conversations started through this means are generally one-sided and brief (Thackeray, 2013).
Can I, a single individual, reform the massive institutions of culture and power that consciously and unconsciously perpetuate hate, intolerance and violence? The short answer is I cannot. But, that does not mean I do not try. One of the most effective means in which I can contribute to combating hate and intolerance is by raising my children in such a way that they are accepting of others and are aware of inequalities and injustices in America and throughout the world.
We who are parents have a unique opportunity to contribute to our community and to issues of social justice which plague our society. We are molding a new generation. Children see what we do, hear what we say, and pay attention to the subtle messages we send (Burke, 2006). We have the chance to raise children who are aware of the issues in our society and who know how to respond. Often, our conversations on social media are with people who strongly agree with us or strongly disagree – we have little opportunity to change anyone’s perspectives there. Not so with our children. They are listening. In fact, they are hanging on our every word. What would happen if passionate parents poured into the molding of their children rather than in passionate debates with other stubborn adults?
A single candle shining in utter darkness makes a difference. We have the chance to light such candles in our children. A thousand candles burning together becomes possible when each of us lights the candles in front of us.
How do we light these candles?
Teach our children how to understand our world and how to respond in love. (A great Ted Talk related to this subject can be found here.)
But, what comes after awareness? What happens after the news cycle refreshes? What happens when there is work still to be done and there is no one to do the work?
Practical Steps for You and Your Family
1. Examine yourself to know your bias.
A few years ago I began mentoring young fathers as a volunteer for a social service agency in my local community. Before I could begin mentoring, I had to attend a training class at the agency. During the training, one of the trainers challenged the class to consider what demographic group we would most struggle to mentor and why. It was an extremely uncomfortable but helpful exercise that continues to remind me to consider my biases and actively reject them if they do not allow me to be empathetic to all persons.
What groups of people do you have the most difficulty engaging? Why do you think you struggle with these groups? What can you do to show love to people who are challenging for you to love?
2. Intentionally engage in cultures different from yours.
To be fair, intentionally engaging different cultures is easier for those in diverse, urban areas than those in more rural areas. But, where ever you are, if you have access to the Internet, you have access to cultures different from yours. One game I enjoy playing with my children is playing catch with a large beach ball that has a globe printed on it. When they catch the ball, they pick a country they want to visit. We then talk about the country until the next catch.
Be creative. How can you engage your family in cultures which are different from yours?
3. Model to your children acceptance of those whose beliefs differ from yours.
Let me be clear. Accepting someone as a person who has inherent value is vastly different from accepting someone’s beliefs as morally and ethically right. There are a number of beliefs people hold that I will never be convinced are morally right. Most of these beliefs I respectfully challenge when given the opportunity. But, no matter how despicable a person’s worldview is, I must not ever lose sight of the person behind the worldview.
This week, look for opportunities to show love and acceptance to people who are different from you.
Last Saturday, I was scrolling through Reddit, reading news stories and looking at footage of the protests in Charlottesville. I viewed the video of a car plowing through a crowd of people. In the next moment, my children came into the room and wanted me to play games with them. In that moment, the dichotomy of need was fully apparent to me. Humans commit terrible, awful, appalling acts against each other every day. My children need me to be present and engaged in their lives. I have a responsibility to call out injustice and intolerance and condemn hate. I have a responsibility to prioritize the needs of my children over my wants and desires. I wanted to process what I saw and read but my children needed their dad to be a father.
I couldn’t do it. I had to ask them to give me a few minutes. As they walked away momentarily disappointed, I wondered how I can remain fully aware of the injustices and atrocities that occur in our world, responding properly to each and every one of them while also remaining fully engaged in parenting my children. This is not to say advocacy and parenting are exclusive domains but only that just like everything else, they are both competing for attention. To be effective in one area takes time and effectiveness away from other areas.
Last Sunday morning, my oldest daughter made a comment about being cold and hungry. I was reminded of the Statue of Liberty and the words inscribed there: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” I made a joking comment asking her if she was a refugee or an immigrant. She asked what those are. I explained to her a refugee is someone who must leave their home because it is not safe and an immigrant is someone who leaves their home because they hope for a better opportunity somewhere else.
In that moment, I realized that though I do not typically engage in social media justice, I do often engage in spreading awareness in my home. My wife and I discuss difficult world issues in front of our children. We do not shy away from conversations critiquing ways in which our own faith community and ourselves perpetuate injustices in our communities and the world. I have little desire to tell my children what to think and believe but I have a strong desire to teach them how to think critically about what they believe. My wife and I attempt to model acceptance of persons even if we do not accept that persons thoughts and actions. My hope is my children will learn that viewing a person through the lens of the “others” only furthers the cycle of intolerance and violent retribution.
I say all this not to put myself on a pedestal of social justice advocacy or great parenting. I am aware of the oppression I participate in merely due to being a member of several of the most privileged classes of American culture. Rather, I am only attempting to show that one of the most important ways in which we can participate in creating a better world is by teaching our children to be tolerant and aware people as we model this tolerance and awareness ourselves. Someone out there is raising the next great moral leader. It may as well be all of us.
Do you have any stories or ideas on helping children become compassionate and helpful members of their community? How does your family respond to the tragedies that plague our world and our media? We would love to hear from you in the comments below!
Burke, R., Herron, R., Barnes, B. (2006) Common sense parenting. Boys Town, NE: Boys Town Press
Thackeray, R., Burton, S., Giraud-Carrier, C., Rollins, S., & Draper, C. (2013) “Using Twitter for breast cancer prevention: an analysis of breach cancer awareness month”. BioMed Central Ltd.