Building a better world alongside our children
One of the greatest concerns for adults, and particularly parents, is what kind of world we are leaving for future generations? We naturally want to do whatever we can to ensure that our children grow up in a better world that we ourselves have inherited. We want to change the world because we know that what we currently have is not good enough for our children. This is particularly true in South Africa where the high levels of crime, poverty and unemployment are climbing every year.
Indeed, we should be doing whatever we can to ensure that the world our children grow up to is as free as possible from evil of all kinds, including pollution, war, crime, etc. But there is only so much we can do ourselves. If we want a world free of evil, we need to raise our children to create new paths in the world – paths focused on justice, mercy and kindness.
Frederick Douglass once said: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken adults.”
The best prevention for unhealthy adults and communities is investing in early childhood intervention. For every minute spent on building strong children, we are saving much more time in repairing dysfunctional adults.
Building a better world and raising children go hand in hand. To accomplish the former, we must invest in the latter.
Setting the example
Children learn first and foremost by following the example of those they respect. The problem is that children today are growing up with many competing voices. They are instructed to be kind and generous, but when they look around at the rich, powerful and famous, they are getting mixed signals about what the world truly values.
This is unfortunately just as true in church circles. When children read their bibles, they see that Jesus cared for the poor and the vulnerable, yet their churches are getting fancier while their poor neighbours are suffering in extreme poverty. Children learn that Jesus instructs them to love their neighbour, and yet their fellow Christians are perpetuating racism, homophobia, and discrimination of all kinds.
We need to make sure that we are setting the example that we want our young people to follow.
We should ensure that we are elevating voices of people that we want our young people to emulate, not those who are spreading discrimination and abuse.
When it comes to setting a good example, most of the world’s religions turn to the Golden Rule, which is usually some variation of the following: “Treat others as you yourself would like to be treated.” Jesus shares his version of this in Luke 6:31: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
We cannot expect our children to grow up seeking peace, love and joy if all they are experiencing from their parents, teachers and pastors is violence, hatred and condemnation.
What if, instead of handing out domination and manipulation, we treated our children with generosity, gratitude, and freedom? What if, instead of the top-down hierarchy prominent in many Christian parenting textbooks, we sow a foundation of love, connection and justice toward children, so that in their tender growing up years they can put down deep roots of physical security, emotional self-identity and spiritual grounding to sustain a lifetime of living good and living well?
Giving children a voice
Nelson Mandela said, “there can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”
If our society is suffering, it is quite likely that our children are suffering the most. If we want to take Jesus’ call to care for the vulnerable and oppressed seriously, we need to begin with our children who are often some of the most vulnerable and oppressed members of our society.
In the Gospels, Jesus radically modelled this himself, transforming the place of young people in society and welcoming the little children to come to him.
Children are so much more than cute little humans-in-the-making here to give us delight during their season of smallness. They do bless us with their adorable beings, but they also change us, change the world, and inject a vitalising hope into sustaining our humanity from generation to generation.
Our hope for the world isn’t just in waiting for the next generation to rise up for change; it is mining for the hope they generously gift us now, if only we were willing to listen to what they have to say.
An essential component in our collective struggle for justice must be to un-silence the most vulnerable and oppressed voices in society. Raising our children for a better tomorrow means making room for their voices now. Contrary to the traditional teaching, children should be seen and heard and invited to participate alongside us in our global movements for justice.
We all desire a world that we can be proud to hand over to future generations. Unfortunately, we seem to believe that we need to fix all of the problems ourselves before that day comes.
I wonder how much more we could accomplish if we invited our children to come alongside us as we fight for justice in the world?
Children have an incredible imagination and vision for the Kingdom of God that sometimes us older folk are too cynical or blind to see. Let us take the task of raising children and building a better tomorrow seriously by setting Christ-like examples and partnering with our young people in the works of justice, kindness and mercy.