Creating Socially Responsible Citizens (Part 1)

As socially responsible adults, we spend countless amounts of time and energy spreading awareness and trying to convince other grown-ups to care. In doing so, we often overlook another responsibility: investing in the future by guiding children to a life led for others.

By raising children into socially responsible citizens, we are cultivating a community that carries a sense of duty to humanity; one that, aware of world issues, seeks solutions.

Why Focus on Children?

Children are already naturally generous and compassionate. Research like this study on Berkeley University’s Greater Good site show that kids, even toddlers, are naturally inclined to help others.

“Young children’s early helping,” the authors write, “is motivated by a genuine concern for the welfare of the person in need.”

According Robert Hepach, the lead author of the study, past research has shown that kids are motivated to help others as early as age one. 

Cultivating in children a concern and awareness for others could have implications for their health and well-being as they age into teenagers. A recent University of British Columbia study has demonstrated the health benefits that volunteering with younger students had on a group of adolescents. According to a study by conducted by the Search Institute, kids who volunteer are also less likely to engage in risky behavior such as drinking alcohol and skipping school:

“Children who served just one hour or more a week were less likely to be involved in at-risk behaviors than those who are not active in volunteering.”

Lastly, we know that volunteering at an early age can serve as the foundation for a life of service and community involvement. The same research study by Benson and Roehlkepartain (1993) tells us that adults involved in social justice tend to have been experience with service projects in their youth. It also highlights the impact that volunteering in earlier childhood can have:

“Research has implicated that the earlier children are involved in volunteering, the higher the probability of them volunteering during adolescence and possibly later in life.”

With all of this in mind, perhaps the more relevant question might be, how can we afford not to focus on children?

With support from an adult, the manifestations of a child’s compassion can have far-reaching effects. The organization Kids Are Heroes showcases many children on their website who are already making a difference. There, you can learn about children raising money for mosquito nets to those starting their own non-profit organizations and everything in between. The organization itself was even created by a child who wanted to help change the world.

Each passing day is a new battle to keep a child’s natural compassion intact. As we get older, society teaches us to categorize people; to identify–and strive for acceptance–with some groups and not with others. The result is an “us” and “them” mentality that does not hold us responsible for the well-being of the larger part of humanity.

In this four-part series, I’ll be exploring ways to nurture and encourage children’s innate sense of caring in a variety of setting. Kids need to understand that they don’t need to grow up to start making a difference; they already hold the future of the world in their hands.

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