Updated June 2022
We hear a lot about the importance of having a social conscience. But, what exactly does it mean to raise a socially conscious child in these turbulent times? It is about helping them process recent events and some of the underlying issues. Teaching your children to be socially conscious doesn't mean they must come to the same conclusions as you about specific topics. However, it does help if you give them the tools and information necessary to make their own choices and form their own belief system.
The reality is that we should all want our children to be socially conscious and encourage them to listen to and respect other viewpoints. In our current emotionally charged society, almost everything has a political undertone. However, it’s not about dictating a particular view to your children; it’s about raising them to be compassionate, willing to help those less fortunate, capable of knowing right from wrong, and speaking up when they see or experience injustice. Simple task, no? Well, no one ever said that parenting was easy! Fortunately, BCT Partners offers six techniques that you can use to foster more empathy and compassion in your children.
1. Encourage intellectual curiosity – People who have a general interest in the world and adopt the habit of being lifelong learners tend to have compassion and understanding. They understand how all the puzzle pieces that make up humanity fit and interact together through their interest in other people, the planet, and animals. It’s important to encourage children to realize that education is not merely what happens in the classroom. Immersing oneself in a wide array of experiences and concepts creates a more significant opportunity for acquiring knowledge and understanding.
2. Talk to your kids about current events and encourage self-expression – Don’t try to sweep uncomfortable news under the rug to shield your children. However, be careful not to overexpose them to the 24-hour news cycle either (which seems to be on repeat whenever a terrible event occurs). Reassure them as much as possible and allow them to ask questions and give their thoughts on the topic. Chances are, your children already know more than you realize. And It’s okay to tell them that you don’t have all the answers either. Just remind them that it’s essential to get their information from reputable, unbiased sources and not on social media alone.
3. Address social advantages and disadvantages – Explain how opportunities differ for people based upon socioeconomic and geographical differences. Point out to them that a person’s unique life experience can dramatically influence how they think, act, and feel and that everyone doesn’t start out on an even playing field.
4. Help your child experience diversity – Give them opportunities to read books and play with toys that celebrate differences in race, religion, gender, etc. The more they realize that we are all human despite our differences, the more they will accept and embrace varying perspectives. Of course, it’s even better to lead by example and show them that you are practicing what you preach. For example, if you don't have any diversity in your own social network, they are bound to see that.
5. Speak up – If you see or hear something racist or unfair, speak up. Then talk about it with your children and explain why you felt the need to act. Have an open dialogue and ask them what they think. Encourage them to also speak out when they see or hear something unjust. As Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “We will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
6. Volunteer – Find local charities that need assistance and let your child choose where they want to volunteer. If children see first-hand the lives of those less fortunate, they will learn the importance of lending a helping hand.
In summary, social consciousness doesn’t necessarily develop organically. It thrives when parents, educators, and a child’s “village” of influencers encourage curiosity and an open exchange of ideas. But it requires effort to foster an environment of gratitude and empathy. Dr. Beatrice Fennimore, who focuses her research on educational issues central to social justice and equal opportunity, believes that parents are the key. She sees parents as instrumental in helping children unlock a social consciousness. "The more children are attuned to fairness, justice, and equality, the better the future will be. Parents must be the change they want to see in the world for their children to follow in their footsteps.”
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