How To Raise Justice-Minded Kids

“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.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. says

    Love this post, Joshua! We’ve never shied away from issues of social justice, and I would add that the earlier you start talking about it (on an age-appropriate level, of course), the better.

    For example, my girls don’t know much about sex, so therefore we don’t talk about sex-trafficking, but they know that we’re making different choices about the chocolate we buy because there are child slaves harvesting chocolate in the Ivory Coast.

    They know that we sponsor kids around the world who either don’t have parents or who have very, very little money and may not have enough to eat otherwise.

    And they know that children are dying because of lack of clean water or food or medical care.

    It’s hard for a little heart to take in, so we do it very, very carefully and with lots of prayer and talking…but I also think that in the same way that exposing babies to multiple languages early makes it easier for them to learn language later on, having their hearts broken now for injustice will impact who they are for a lifetime and the choices they make as adults.

  2. says

    Well written Josh. Thanks for this quality post.
    We sponsor two boys in Nicaragua and I think that it has moved both my husband and I every time we receive a letter from “our boys.” I have found that once a person begins to practice justice, I think that the beauty of helping others motivates you to become more involved and concerned for others. A priest friend of ours once said that “social justice” was no different than justice, because justice is already concerned for all peoples. Thought that was an interesting reflection on the politically correct term.

  3. says

    Love the post. One thing my wide and I did to serve as a constant reminder was to write out a parenting mission statement with our goals and strategies to use as parents. We signed it like a contract and have it posted on our refrigerator. It helps us not to forget what we’re trying to do as parents.

  4. says

    I was just talking to a mom on my site last week about bullying and what to do about that. I thought about that as I was reading your post. The playground and the park are the classroom for our kids to learn about justice close to home. Teaching kids that they need to stand up for what is right and not go along with the crowd if they are picking on someone else. Teaching them that the ‘biggest’ person in the situation isn’t the ‘strongest’ or ‘meanest’ but probably the ‘bravest’.

    We totally need to teach the global issues and help our kids understand them at their level. It is sometimes even harder to teach and practice (for kids and adults) the issues that are right in front of us. :)

    Great post! Thanks!

  5. says

    This is a passion of mine when it comes to parenting. My husband and I intentionally seek out ways that we can minister to others with our children at our side. As a homeschooling family, we take a very global approach to our learning so that they understand there is a larger world out there. We are also heavily involved in sponsoring and advocating through Compassion International, and our children are aware of our extended family all over the world and their needs and struggles as they live in third world countries.

  6. Kaci says

    I loved the article, but I’m liking the comments just as much! It’s encouraging to hear of the wonderful ways that parents are investing in their children — and, by extension, the future for all of us.

  7. says

    I have my father to thank for this lesson. He used his legal experience to fight for access to equal housing opportunities. I’m currently volunteering at a shelter that mirrors much of his work.

  8. Cory says

    Justice is great and this a well written post. “Social justice” however is socialist construct that encourages “learned helplessness” and is a stepping stone to totalitarianism, I would be careful bantering this term around as it actually goes against the concept of being a minimalist, that being “personal responsibility”

    • says

      Thanks for the input Cory. Your definition of “social justice” is not what I had in mind when writing the article. Wikipedia defines the word this way, “Social justice generally refers to the idea of creating a society or institution that is based on the principles of equality and solidarity, that understands and values human rights, and that recognizes the dignity of every human being.” That is the only way I have defined the word in my mind. But I do appreciate you raising the opportunity to make that distinction.

      • Joanna says

        If you trim your definition a little bit, you get “Social justice generally refers to the idea of creating a society or institution that is based on the principles of equality and solidarity” and that is exactly communism (even with the rest it fits quite well, the human rights are also valued, but up to a certain point). Communism is a bunch of ideas, that are frighteningly more popular these days, but people who remember it well die and don’t teach the young ones, that it always goes wrong. Just read “The Animal Farm” if you can’t get through “Atlas Shrugged”. It may be called “social justice” or “equal chances”, but it’s still the same idea.
        There is a saying that in communism everybody is equal but some people are more equal.
        In a just world people who work, earn money. In socially just world everybody gets a little bit of money, irrelevant whether they work to earn it or not. They are equal.
        Real people are not equal.
        Not every child labourer is a slave, but “humanitarian” whites close their eyes to the many shades of gray of all Third World issues. Many children in Third World Countries curse people who force them to go to school and cut them off from their only means of survival.

        The difference between justice and social justice is like between a chair and an electric chair. If they were the same, we wouldn’t need two expressions.

        But to end on a more positive note – I appreciate the idea of raising children to value what we want them to value by showing this in our actions. Caring for the “less fortunate” is not social justice. It’s charity in all its glory.

        • Kristina Martinez says

          Sometimes ideas like equality and social justice are warped by our flawed human natures but that doesn’t mean the ideas are flawed. Governments are run by people. We may call our versions by different names and emphasize different ideas but what matters is how we interpret those ideas. I’m certain that every government on earth has seen its share of corruption.

          The idea of raising just children goes beyond facetious “caring for the less fortunate”. It’s about helping them become aware that through the luck of birth, they have privileges and opportunities that others don’t have and that a just person doesn’t just sit back and be content with the way things are.

  9. says

    A most wonderful article! Very important it is, in how we are teaching our children, so that they can be informed and make a difference in this world for the future.

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