A new school year is upon us and nostalgia’s knocked me out yet again. Every year this is when the speedy passage of time especially strikes and gives me pause. Whenever I tell anyone with grown children, they listen, unfazed, and say matter-of-factly, “It’ll only go faster.”
Now I even feel nostalgic when I see my friends’ kids, whether it’s in the flesh or when they post the first day of school photos that have been making the rounds on Facebook. Who is that young woman, a mere memory of the pig-tailed, mommy’s-helper sibling from our infant playgroup days? And who is that young man with facial hair, towering over his mom when only yesterday he stood at her hip?
I've recently realized that as a parent I've been focused on civilizing my children the first chunk of their lives. If it’s not toilet training or teaching them why they shouldn't run up the park slide when others are waiting at the top, it’s been reminders not to talk with their mouths full or to get thank you notes out in a timely manner.
Yet now for my two oldest children, I’m focused on whether they have their priorities straight. Are they compassionate? Are they kind? These are characteristics that may be innate in some, but for most of us they are learned through experience.
I’d been thinking about our larger community of kids today and this issue when, serendipitously, I witnessed two examples of young people at their best. Our area high school partnered with the county food bank to bring awareness that even people in the suburbs struggle to get food for their families most days. The students leading the outreach were impressive to talk to- yes, they're wise beyond their years and fun, but more notably they are kind and patient, too.
There’s a mother of two who founded a youth community service organization. After five years, they’ve reached thousands of less fortunate people and today 1,200 kids from area schools help and to talk with any of them is nothing short of delightful. The founder said she formed the service organization after an epiphany when her sons were focused on not having the latest gaming device. “I decided I wanted my boys to grow up to be compassionate, caring individuals that look beyond themselves and strive to make this world a better place whether through little acts of kindness or big outreach projects,” she says.
One thing is striking about the organization’s mission and goals, however. More and more parents want to sign their kids up to help, but they don’t have enough adult mentors to oversee all of the great things they want to accomplish. In hearing this, the answer to my question: How to raise genuinely caring people became clear: it starts with me.
It starts with other adults, too. Adult mentors from the high school and food bank guided the students, for example. Their positive guidance and support helped the student planners soar in making the outreach project a success. This also happens on youth sports fields, in youth groups, in classrooms and wherever there are adult mentors, everyday. How parents instill in their own homes on a daily basis what it means to be a kind person is just as important.
Yes our kids may be growing up before our eyes, and sometimes they may act like they may not need us, but the opposite is actually true. Newly civilized kids, not just our own, need our help to understand they have the power to change the world.
Julie Samrick is a stay-at-home mom of four young kids and the founder of Kid Focused, a site devoted to children and family issues. Subscribe to the free Kid Focused newsletter delivered weekly to your inbox and connect with us on Facebook too. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com.