A simple equation. We all want the next generation to be civic-minded, learn about democracy, and make good decisions that will affect the future of our country – and, our planet. During election time, schools offer the “Kids Voting USA” curriculum to help students in grade K – 12 become informed about the greatest liberty of all—the right to vote.
Parents help in this area by engaging their children in dialogue and conversation that foster understanding about candidates, political parties and various issues on the ballots. This conversation also builds valuable critical thinking skills, encouraging kids to learn to make decisions based upon information and asking questions. This is what we all understand about this important topic of CITIZENSHIP. This trait is another strong pillar in our pursuit of CHARACTER EDUCATION elements taught in most schools throughout the country.
Other elements of good CITIZENSHIP include: taking care of one’s community; obeying laws and rules; respecting authority; and, protecting the environment. Parents help their children to understand these elements each and every day, from not littering on the street, to following traffic signs, to encouraging children to listen to their teachers and do what is expected each day at school. Many families practice environmental protection through recycling, water conservation and gardening.
However, there is one last component of CITIZENSHIP that often gets left out of the equation: CITIZENSHIP + SERVICE = LEADERSHIP. By offering service, students learn to become leaders. Leadership reinforces a strong sense of what it means to be a good citizen.
I wrote an article, “Lemon Aid in the Shade,” for Raising Arizona Kids magazine that appeared in the September 2010 issue. It was a story about two neighbors, elementary-aged children, who decided to raise money to help a local animal shelter. They picked lemons and made lemonade. With the help of their mothers, they baked chocolate chip cookies. This entire tasty combination soon went public! After building a stand out of cardboard boxes, they parked their newly-formed business near a local golf course. Needless to say, they earned a neat and tidy sum for the animal shelter. This is service learning in action and this is what builds leaders who have the potential to direct this great country in which we are privileged to live.
Have you or your children every been involved in a community or civic project that helped to teach service and leadership? Do you think this is important? What suggestions do you have for other parents/grandparents/guardians to build civic pride and participation?
“A national ethics survey on American youth finds one in three high schoolers stealing from a store in the past year, two in five lying to save money, and eight out of ten lying to their parents (Josephson Center for Youth Ethics, 2010).”
Why do we read alarming statistics like this one? The report goes on to explain that this survey reflected a slightly higher moral code than an earlier one done in 2008, and that is the good news. But is “slightly higher” enough when these stats still shout loud alarm signals to our society. Stealing, lying and cheating are not behaviors we want to be instilling in our young people. Not only as parents, teachers and guardians, but as a whole society we must not let this continue. If these behaviors go unattended and are ignored, as a society we are equally at fault.
Vision, modeling and teaching – what we spoke about a few months ago when we develop a plan to raise well-adjusted and responsible citizenry. If our vision is to create trustworthy kids that will turn into the adults who will be the role models of the future, that goal has to be taught. Example is the best teacher, and those adults closest to children are their first and foremost models. Yet we all have a responsibility to expect strong character development in our youth.
Character counts and expecting children to have integrity, be honest, and show loyalty to family, friends and country reflects the first pillar of character, trustworthiness. How do we teach integrity, honesty, and loyalty to family?
Integrity is having the courage to do the right thing. With peer pressure and social demands, kids will yield to the dominant culture to be accepted. That is why it is so important to know who your child is associating with and who their parents are. One day a friend told me she took her first grader to a classmates’ birthday party. When she walked him into the yard, another parent was standing amongst the kids with a gun in a holster around his waist. She told the parent she was uncomfortable with the gun and took her child home. It takes courage to do what you believe is right.
Honesty is telling the truth and not taking what doesn’t belong to you. Have you or someone you know ever asked a child to lie for you? Has it been inconvenient to take a phone call, but easy to say, “Tell her I’m not home.” If we find something that does not belong to us, do we make an effort to find the owner and show our child that it is the right thing to do? As a principal at a school that had several families with grave financial needs, I saw honesty in a moment I might not expect. A grandmother brought her young grandson into the office to turn in a five dollar bill that he found on the playground. It took courage and showed great honesty for the grandmother to do what she did. The family really needed the money. (After several days and notes, no one claimed the money and we gave it to the grandmother and child.) Not only did the little boy learn honesty first hand, but it literally paid off for him to do so!
Loyalty to family, friends and country. We want our children to be loyal to the people close to them and to the country that offers them so much. We do this by performing acts of kindness to reflect the value of other people and their meaning in our lives. We honor our flag, respect laws, and teach the value of the gifts we have as American citizens. Hanging a flag out on special holidays, teaching our National Anthem and reading children stories about great American patriots, such as honest Abe are great ways to begin.
Is there a specific memory you have about how you learned the pillar of trustworthiness? Have you had an opportunity to teach your child or one very close to you about honesty, integrity and loyalty?