“How do we cope,” I asked my husband the other day, “with all the terrible news ambushing us daily?”
We could turn off the TV and radio, cancel our newspaper subscription and avoid all news sites on the internet, but to what end? We can’t hide from what’s happening around us, and as parents of young children, I feel we have a duty to strike a balance between informing them and protecting them.
My ten-year-old daughter is far from oblivious about recent world events. She sees the front cover of the newspaper on the kitchen table, friends talk at school, and for more than a year, she’s had a subscription to the excellent children’s weekly newspaper, First News. She asks us questions, and her younger sister is quick to pick up some of what’s happening. How do I as a parent respond?
With empathy and truth. I believe it’s my obligation, as a parent, to teach my daughters about the world as well as teaching them empathy, kindness and respect for others.
Through my involvement with Smile Train and Changing Faces, my daughters have already learned that it is not OK to judge someone based on their appearance or abilities.
As the offspring of a black dad and white mum, they’ve also begun to grasp the concept of racism and to oppose it. While it’s encouraging to watch them begin to stand up for what they believe is right and refuse to accept discrimination of any kind, it’s also hugely important that they cultivate their empathic abilities.
We may not be able to affect world politics directly, but we can – and must – ensure that the next generation of decision makers grow up to be empathic, compassionate men and women who appreciate that everyone is innately whole and deserving of respect, compassion and kindness. I believe this is a big part of what parenting is about, and it is just as important as making sure my children do their spelling homework, guitar practice and eat their vegetables.
Being a parent is a huge responsibility; we are in charge of shaping the next generation and what we teach them will inform how they turn out as adults. Talking isn’t enough, though, we must walk the talk ourselves; that’s why it’s imperative that we model the behaviours we want to see in our children. So, if you want your daughters and sons to grow up to be empathic, kind and accepting of people’s differences, they need to see those values reflected in your own behaviour and attitudes.
The future is too precious and precarious to be left to politicians to decide. We must do our bit by not only cultivating our empathic skills, respect for, and acceptance of, those who are different from ourselves; we must also do everything we can to pass these values on to our children and grandchildren.
Mahatma Gandhi said, “be the change you wish to see in the world.” As parents, we have a great responsibility and opportunity as de facto educators, peacemakers and agents of change. Don’t waste it.