7 Ways to Raise Justice Minded Children

November 18, 2013

My two kids are stunning.

I mean, they’re perfect.

Wait, what I’m trying to say, is I think rather highly of them. My husband and I, like most parents, try our best to raise them and instill our values so they become our minions grow up to be responsible citizens of the world. One of my greatest passions is to see an end to extreme global poverty, the reason I serve on the board of a poverty fighting grassroots movement called One Day’s Wages. Because of my role with ODW, my children are mindful of world hunger, model peace making, and only consume fair traded chocolates.

Um…no. My kids are kids, they pick out greens and dump their dinners when I’m not looking, fight over iGadgets made from conflict laden minerals, and only one of them is generous with their allowance, the other one is frankly, quite stingy. As much as we would like them to be justice minded, we face various challenges with children because of their limited worldview and lack of emotional maturity to deal with the dark realities of injustice.

Having said that, given the complex global issues emerging in our generation and the urgency of responding to the cries of the most poor and vulnerable around the world, we can’t afford not to raise up our children to a better world, for a better world. Here are seven ways we try, in our family, to raise our kids to be justice people:

  1. Why Social Justice? Social justice has become a buzzword, attacked by some as insidious communist ideology, and hailed by others as the latest trendy cause. As Christians, we are compelled by the teachings of Jesus, as well as a basic respect for human dignity. In order to raise our kids to be justice people, we must ground them in the “why” of justice. For us, it has looked like presenting the gospel as Good-News-That-Matters-Now and not just a ticket to heaven. Salvation means deliverance not just from personal sins, but from systemic injustice, poverty, racism, and environmental degradation. One resource we have used is the Parent Guide from the book Pursuing Justice by Ken Wytsma, founder and speaker at the Justice Conference Asia I attended this past summer.
  2. Incorporate in Prayer. What we pray for reflects our values. Our pre-dinner prayers (when they happen, ahem…), often revolve around praying for “ALL the sick people, ALL the hungry people, and ALL the homeless people” (emphasis added by the children). Our pre-night time prayers include thanking God for school and for, you guessed it, ALL the kids to be able to go to school. Even though our kids don’t really grasp the gravity of issues such as world hunger and child mortality rates, we hope it is at least a part of their daily routine to remember the importance of these issues, and one day grow into deeper understanding.
  3. Equality for all. The root of justice is a respect for the dignity of all. Besides modeling respect in the home, we support the kids’ school in anti-bullying programs, and encourage them to value each of their classmates equally. It’s often a delicate dance whether to intervene on the kids’ social scene as they need to learn to navigate relationships for themselves, but teaching moments for equality present themselves in so many ways throughout childhood. One of my greatest hopes is for my son and daughter to grow up modeling gender equality, to be advocates and fight against the oldest injustice in history of patriarchy. Image

  4. Practice everyday justice. Adopt some family practices which reflect the causes closest to your heart. My husband has a deep concern for environmental justice. To this end, we have slowly changed some of our habits to reflect this concern. For the past decade, we haven’t hung lights on our Christmas tree to save energy. In the past two years, we have stopped eating beef as cattle ranching is a major cause of carbon emissions. We are not so naive to believe these small steps actually promote much change in the environmental crisis, but they remind us to keep justice in the center of our attention so we can pray, stay aware, and keep moving forward.
  5. Generosity. This is so easy to do. I find children are much more cheerful givers than many of us adults. Don’t guilt them into giving their allowance. Tell stories of how their money can make an impact and let them challenge us with their generosity. Encourage them to do generosity together with friends. I haven’t been able to convince my kids to do this yet, but a really easy way for kids to give is to set up a birthday for a cause. Check out this little girl’s campaign, she has been doing this for years! So inspiring.
  6. Celebrate justice heroes. On the 50th anniversary of MLK’s Dream speech, I sat down with Lizzy and watched the speech with her – an opportunity to strike awe in her heart for justice. When Malala (my favorite activist for education for girls) was interviewed by Jon Stewart, I also shared this with her. We have such an amazing array of heroic examples, from past to present, from media to print, from around the world to local leaders, to highlight for our children as people worth emulating.
  7. Encourage creativity. The justice issues regarding poverty, the ecological crisis, overpopulation, and more require tenacity and creative solutions. Grooming our children to be creative problem solvers is a task for parents and educators and church leaders. How can we captivate their imagination for a better world? How do we empower them to dream of the impossible?

My children are still young, I am hardly the expert on the parenting topic. This is my humble contribution. What else can be added to this list?