Our world needs young people who care and help. These are simple ways to teach children to serve their community.
In the past, civic engagement was an expectation for all citizens, rather than the exception for a few. There was a time in this country where most adults were very involved in their local communities, in all kinds of ways.
Sadly, those days are long gone. And thanks to the rise of the Internet and online communication, it seems unlikely that they will ever return.
These online communities have their advantages, but they do not replace the real and rewarding engagement of in-person participation. There are all kinds of benefits, both obvious and subtle, to spending time with others in person rather than online.
“Social capital,” that is, the network of relationships between people in our society, has declined considerably over the past decades. Robert Putnam’s founding book, Bowling alone, examines this crisis in detail. We know that this decline in social and civic engagement is hurting us all.
Deep down, we know that is not what we want for our children and for ourselves. We don’t want to spend our lives staring at screens rather than in the eyes of the people around us.
But how do you build social capital? How can we make this a priority to strengthen our local networks in person? How do we teach our children to be helpful and involved citizens instead of being disengaged and indifferent?
I have found that the best way to teach this is by example. We can tell our kids what to do all day, but it’s our examples that will make the real difference. For better or for worse, our children are modeled on our behavior.
It turns out that modeling civic engagement is not complicated. Here are 3 ways I have found to teach my kids to get involved in our local community.
1Volunteer at the library
I am a member of the board of directors of the “Friends of the Library” section of our local library branch. It’s a sweet, refreshing old-fashioned little library in the Chicago suburbs. My kids and I go there once or twice a week and we all love to visit.
As a board member, I do simple things like sorting and selling used books at book sales, calling local businesses to host fundraising events, and running quizzes or quizzes. game evenings. None of this is complicated, and these are things my kids can (mostly) help me do. They are particularly enthusiastic about selling books: what kid doesn’t like to “play in the store”?
I love teaching my children that we can give back to a place that has given us so much. And getting involved in the library has helped us make new friends in our neighborhood. It’s a victory for everyone.
You can also get involved and support your local library. Or you could volunteer at a different location that is a hub of activity for your community. It is a wonderful way to teach children to serve and do our part.
2Join a community garden
There are plenty of good reasons to join a community garden! Gardening improves both your physical and mental health.
Gardening in a community brings even more benefits. Volunteering to weed the garden or water everyone’s plants is a great way for kids to be really helpful. It’s also a fantastic way to make friends and build social capital!
3Attend a march, demonstration, parade or rally
If there’s a cause you care about, get your children to support him vocally and publicly as a family.
For me, one of those causes is freedom for Cuba. I am Cuban on both sides of my family, and while my parents and grandparents were fortunate to leave the country, many others were not so lucky.
I grew up knowing that we were a people in exile. I have heard stories about my grandfather’s time as a political prisoner and the atrocities my family witnessed under the Castro regime.
Today, the Cuban people are rebelling against a brutal dictatorship that has oppressed them for 62 years. But their government is doing everything it can to quell their outcry in the world. They confiscate phones, cut off electricity and WiFi, and imprison and kill anyone who questions it all.
The world witnesses these horrors through the text messages and videos Cubans on the island were able to send, using VPN connections and other means. During this time, we Cuban Americans feel an enormous obligation to amplify the voices of our compatriots who are suffering and cannot speak out. We feel the duty to be a bridge between cultures and to share the truth about what is happening on the island.
With all of this in mind, I took my children to a local rally in support of the Cuban people last week. We held up signs, sang for freedom, prayed together for Cuba and called attention to Cuba’s plight. In the years to come, I hope my children will remember that we tried to do what we could to help our homeland.
Your cause will probably be something different, but Think about what matters most to you and how you can support it. Maybe you will attend a demonstration, as we did. You might make calls or write letters to politicians to support your cause. Whatever you do, you can point it out to your kids and explain why you are doing it.
Speaking up for a cause you believe in is a great feeling. Then you will feel so happy that you did your part. And it is a wonderful example for your children.
Hopefully together we can raise children who volunteer, give back, speak out and genuinely care about helping their communities. It is not only good for them, but also for our nation and our world.