“There’s a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep ’em all away from you. That’s never possible.”― Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
I read to Boy Wonder every night before bedtime. He listens for about a half and hour and then passes out for the night. So it’s safe to assume that “audiobook narrator” is not a career I will be pursuing anytime soon. Imagine the ad pitch for Audible, “Let his dulcet tones lull you to sleep in thirty minutes or your money back.” On second thought, there are probably a lot of insomniacs out there who could really use that service.
Our most recent bedtime book of choice is Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird”. Before you tell me that he’s too young to understand the novel’s still timely message, let me remind you that it’s not what you read but how you read it. My mom used to read me whatever smut was on her end table that week. “He caressed her heaving bossom and…go to sleep sweetie.”
As we reread Atticus Finch raising his daughter Scout through the trials and tribulations of a racially divided small town in Alabama, I can’t help wonder what the future will hold for our generation’s children. If you click on your favorite news app (Reminder: Facebook and Twitter are not actual news apps), you will see headlines about the challenges facing our planet and might make you want to navigate back to the safety of Instagram instead. There’s climate change, political and social divisions at home and abroad, mass shootings, you name it. Sure, we hope that those issues get addressed, but that’s for someone else to handle right?
Wrong. Our kids will be the next Scout Finches of the world who will question the status quo and challenge all racism, sexism, classism, and all the other “-isms” that we adults feel so powerless to stop. But how can we raise our children to be adults that move us toward a more just, accepting and healthy world?’ I suppose we could turn to that hero of literature, Atticus Finch, for some sage advice.
First, Teach your kids to have a Strong Sense of Self.
“Before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself.” -Atticus Finch
It means having a strong sense of self. You can’t be the change you want to see in the world if you don’t know who you are, what is expected of you as a responsible person.
Second, Teach kids Accountability.
“The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”
Like Barney the Dinosaur once sang “Clean up, clean up, everybody do your share.” In order to have a happy and healthy home everyone takes turns doing their part. Yes, even at the toddler level. To you they may seem “in the way” but they will learn with a broom in hand to take responsibility for the environment they live in.
Third, Let kids get Bored
“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”
I have fond child-hood memories of playing with action figures and Legos in my room, by myself. I taught myself how to play the guitar and the piano. And I read a lot of books, a lot of them. Allow our kids to get bored. Boredom is the birthplace of creativity. The solutions that will solve tomorrow’s problems probably don’t exist yet. It won’t until your creative kid invents it.
Fourth, Talk to your kids with respect.
“When a child asks you something, answer him, for goodness sake. But don’t make a production of it. Children are children, but they can spot an evasion faster than adults, and evasion simply muddles ’em.”
What’s up with adults who feel like they have to change their tone when they talk to kids? I watch a lot of Sesame Street these days and I don’t see Nina, Chris, Alan, or any of the other adults on the show talking with a condescending tone. They speak to kids with respect. If you talk to kids like small people rather than small minded people, you can help them think about big concept ideas like compassion and empathy. You’re laying the groundwork for later on in life when they meet people of all ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds who deserve equal respect. If Boy Wonder learns that he can treat someone with dignity even if he disagrees with them, then I will have done my job as a parent.
Lastly, There’s no shame in being wrong. But there is shame in being cruel.
“There are just some kind of men who – who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.”
Winning isn’t everything. I’ve heard people say that for years. You know what else I’ve heard? A classroom sit in silence after a teacher asks a question because the students are afraid to be wrong. We learn the most when we fail. I know we all want our kids to succeed at whatever they do but sometimes well meaning parents notch up the pressure so much that kids so afraid of failing that they don’t even try. Let’s take the stigma away and turn being wrong into an opportunity to learn the right.
Walk a mile in another man’s shoes
Like our good friend Atticus Finch told his children,
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
If it’s true that we were all created equal and we want to raise kids who will affect change in our world, maybe that’s the best lesson we can pass on to them.
Have you ever read a book that makes you reflect on the values you want to pass on to your children? Share it below in the comments.