“Justice is the crowning glory of the virtues.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero
Good parents are intentional parents. They understand their parenting decisions today shape the lives of their children in the future. Whether we do it intentionally or unintentionally, strategically or haphazardly, our choices will inevitably shape the lives of our children as adults.
Most of us already know that to be true. That is why we discipline them when they disobey – so they will become responsible adults. That is why we help them with their homework – so they will value education. And that is why we enroll them in sports, dance, and summer camps – so they will become well-rounded, successful human beings.
Our choices steer our childrens’ lives. How then do we guide them towards a concern for others and a desire for justice in our world? How do we raise children to stand up against unfair practices, give to those in need, speak for the voiceless, defend the innocent, and not blame the victim?
The answer may not be as complicated as one might think. In fact, raising a justice-minded child is not that much different than raising a child who values athletics, academics, or art. The same principles apply.
The problem is that society champions athletes, academics, and artists. It gives trophies to athletes, awards to academics, and accolades to artists. Our schools offer classes for academics, after-school clubs for artists, lessons for dancers, and coaches for athletes. But rare is the community that champions justice. As a result, we as parents need to take the lead in raising justice-minded kids and take it upon ourselves to accomplish that goal.
To help us accomplish that goal in our child’s life (no matter their age), we need to intentionally include these four principles in our parenting:
1. Embrace the idea of a justice-minded child. Wise parents give significant thought to what type of person they are raising. They make their choices intentionally. And then they strategically steer their children down that road. In the same way, raising a justice-minded child begins with a decision to raise a justice-minded child. This first step is absolutely essential and can not be overstated. Giving up your privilege for the rights of others is a counter-cultural mindset. It will not be found until is deliberately sought.
2. Exemplify a justice-minded life for your child. Our children are watching. They are noticing our lives. And our actions speak a thousand times louder than our words. Simply put, if our children don’t see us model a concern for social justice in our own life, they are not going to care about it either – and it would be unreasonable to assume they would. On the other hand, if they see us model social justice, compassion, and service on a regular basis, they are going to realize the importance of it. So offer to make a meal for the family of an unemployed friend, buy extra Christmas gifts for the orphan, take a stand against corporations that exploit children, and speak up for those without a voice. Your son or daughter will notice… they always do.
3. Expose your child to the issues of social justice in your community and around the world. I love the idea of a son who appreciates baseball. Because of that, I take him to baseball games, we play catch in the backyard, and talk about it at the dinner table. I know exactly what I’m doing… I’m teaching him to value the sport so that we can enjoy it together as he gets older. In the same way, if we want to raise justice-minded children, we need to expose them to issues in our community and around the world that demonstrate the need for justice. Talk about it at the dinner table. Get a children’s book from the library that raises the issue. Find a movie that portrays injustice and discuss it afterwards. Organize a time to serve as an entire family – your children are never too young to be exposed to the needs of others in our world.
4. Encourage them as they get involved. The old saying is still true, “What gets rewarded gets done.” One of the greatest ways to motivate our children towards an end is by using encouraging, positive words. That is why every time they clean up their toys or dirty laundry, we praise them – so they continue down the road they started. When you see your child display a concern for justice (which they inevitably will if you follow through on the other first three principles), be sure to praise them loudly and consistently. After all, an act of justice towards a fellow human being deserves a far greater applause than hitting a baseball.
The author, Hodding Carter, Jr. once said, “There are two lasting bequests we can give our children. One is roots. The other is wings.” Give your children firm roots in the importance of standing up for those who can’t… and watch them soar to create a better world than they found.