Raising responsible, caring kids is a tall order, especially when we live in a society steeped in rampant consumerism and narcissism. The task can seem downright overwhelming at times, and I don’t believe parents can do it alone. We need all the help we can get.
Teachers and Other Caring Adults
My son had a fabulous student government teacher that believes high school is about more than algebra and college application essays. He believes that high school teachers can, and should, teach students lessons in integrity, service, and community involvement. Instead of asking continually for donations and pledges from community business owners, he constantly looks for opportunities for the students to serve the community.
Students are expected to complete at least 30 hours of community service on their own. Additionally, they complete several service projects every year as a group. The highlight of the year is the Make a Wish fundraiser in connection with Homecoming. Last fall, students hosted a barbecue and concert that raised over $2,000 so a child in the community who has leukemia could go with her family to Disney World.
But not every service should be highly visible or rewarded with praise. After we have bad weather, this teacher texts his student government students and issues an assignment: find a neighbor who needs some help and help clean up their yard.
This attitude of service has become so ingrained in my son that he doesn’t wait for a text from his teacher anymore. Bad weather or a snowy day means more than just a day to sleep in. He’s up and putting on his boots and gloves without any reminders.
This is just one example of how children’s lives have been blessed by caring adults. My neighbor hires my son to care for his pets when he goes on vacation, and doesn’t shrink from teaching opportunities. The first time my son watched the dogs, he did a less than stellar job and my neighbor kindly told him so. He hired him again, though, and my son improved, learning how to care for dogs and use training puppy pads on days when it was hard to take them out. My neighbor rewarded him with positive encouragement and a nice payment. Lesson learned. Later on he even taught him more about taking care of his dogs, including dog dental care. I hope that made an impression on my son, who thinks very little about his own oral hygiene!
Family and Community
Extended family members are a great resource for teaching kids lessons in character. We don’t have extended family close by, though, so I’ve had to create an extended family for my kids in my own community. Here’s a few of the ways we’ve found to create an “extended family” for our kids:
- Join a community church and become involved in youth activities.
- Get to know neighbors. We hold annual events, such as a Labor Day picnic, but the real bonding moments are every day happenings. We frequently sit on our neighbor’s porch visiting or inviting them to dinner. When my neighbor’s pipes froze, every person on the block was there with buckets, shop vacs, and towels. These types of activities unite a neighborhood, form strong bonds, and leave a lasting impression on kids. As P.D. James said, “What a child doesn’t receive, he can seldom give later.” Early opportunities to serve set a foundation for later community involvement.
- Regularly visit a senior citizen center. Most kids today are alienated from the older generation. We visit the local senior’s center to sing songs, help with a craft, or provide a meal. The kids were apprehensive at first, but they’ve learned to appreciate the stories and wisdom of their elders.
- Form friendships with people outside your regular circle. Most of my friends are people who I share similar interests with, but kids need to become acquainted with people from a variety of backgrounds, ages, and walks of life. I have a dear friend who is a widow that we regularly have dinner with. When my dog died, she was the first one at my door with a potted plant and a hug.
Photo by MZM-Photo