The Unique Opportunity for Our Children
Our children have an uniquely expanded voice. They have a significant platform from which to project who they are and what they believe. They have access to any number of social media vehicles from websites, Facebook pages to tweets. And that alone, the voice they are permitted, is a significant evolution from the perception of generations’ past that “Children should be seen and not heard.” But what is the substance of that voice? Our unique role as parents of this generation is to help children use their platform with sensitivity, self-awareness and thoughtfulness.
Our children have a sense of agency. They have choices whether it’s where they attend school, with whom they become friends or how they spend their free time. They may frustrate us as they demonstrate their strong wills. But how will we help them channel that energy? How will we help them grow their internal moral compass so that they are able to make decisions that are self-nourishing and take into consideration the greater impact on others?
And voice and agency constitute great power. But with great power comes great responsibility. Strong will can be exercised on the dark or light side of “the Force.” The difference between those who are able to contribute to our global community and those who have the potential to harm it is that the first group have had the chance to cultivate consequential thinking – to grapple with the ethical dilemmas of our day and decide for themselves what they believe. They need the chance to grow in their self-awareness to be able to contribute the best of who they are. They need to have practice in understanding others’ thoughts and feelings raising their empathy and social awareness.
I hope you will join me again for another year of dialogue on how we, as parents, can offer experiences to our children to train their voices so that they may significantly contribute to all of us. I made one resolution at the beginning of the school year, in particular, toward this greater goal of helping train my son’s voice. “How have you done on the school year resolution you made in the Fall?” collaborators from NBC’s Parent Toolkit wanted to know in the new year. Here’s what I wrote that I was going to try to do this year:
I resolve to dive into discomfort with my child when I know it’s important. I will look for windows of opportunity to discuss sensitive issues such as racism, sexuality and historical events that are shameful. I will ensure that the information I provide is well-informed and if I am not sure, I will research before I communicate so that I feel confident in what I am relaying. I will also ensure that the information I provide is developmentally appropriate so that my seven year
old son can begin to understand that people have made choices in the past and in the present that we never want to repeat. Though these issues make me squirm and would be easy to overlook and avoid, I will face them in a sensitive and empathetic way so that my son may do the same.
As with so many resolutions, it changed in the midst of actually doing it. Yes, I did dive into discomfort. I looked for opportunities to discuss critical issues facing our family, our community and the world. And they were abundant. Thanksgiving brought conversations about immigration, racism, ancestry and cultural appreciation. The holiday season offered chances to talk about the numerous traditions and rituals that were taking place around the world based on beliefs very different from our own. In the midst of our celebrations, we remembered those dear relatives who had passed on and discussed what we think happens when people are dying or when they are dead. The news produced the chance to talk about gun violence and safety. The release of the PG-13 new Star Wars movie offered another window to discuss sensitivity, movie violence and age readiness. Classmates went through moves and divorces. Time at holiday parties raised discussions of alcohol and its effects. Aggressive words and actions were experienced. And gender roles and love explored. All of these issues arose within the small time from the start of school until now.
As I had resolved, I did indeed provide facts that I knew. I did research with my son those facts I didn’t know. I shared my beliefs too. But the one critical aspect of my resolution that changed, that I didn’t anticipate was that the questions – what we do not know for certain – were much more important than any answers I might have provided. Those questions left hanging for consideration made my son think – really think. Authentic wisdom is being able to make responsible decisions with uncertain or limited knowledge. And that is what I desire. I want my son to hone the skills of thinking responsibly so that some day, when faced with the dark or light side, he’ll have practiced thinking through the complexities and have wisdom from which to draw. My hope for this new year is that we all cultivate our wisdom, to make responsible decisions in the midst of uncertainty.