Teaching Your Child Social Responsibility
Dec 01, 2019 / Written by: America Needs Fatima
To awaken the child to solicitude for the poor and the needy is a splendid thing. However, parents do not fulfill their whole duty, if they fail to give their child a sense of responsibility for the common good and a true concept of cooperation.
Instinctively the child refers everything to his own small personal interest. If he is not taught very early to have concern for others, the child will be in danger of becoming narrow and selfish, of being forever oblivious to the general welfare, in other words, of never achieving a social sense.
While the child is very young this training will not consist in formal instructions, but rather in a constant directing of attention on a thousand different occasions to the fact of having to be concerned about others. For example, a child can be taught to go upstairs without making a noise because mamma is resting; not to slam the doors because little brother or little sister is asleep; not to play noisily near papa’s study. The child will learn very early in this way the social consequences of his actions.
By way of further example, a child may be with the whole family to meet someone at the station; the parents will have a fine opportunity to show her how selfish it is to stand directly in doorways and passages, since that obstructs the entrances and exits for people coming in from trains or those who merely wish to leave that way. If a little girl accompanies her mother on a shopping trip, she can be taught not to play with the merchandise as it will all have to be refolded and replaced after she leaves.
At basketball or football, it is not so important to be a star player oneself as to bring the team to victory. It is true sportsmanship and true nobility to renounce a personal triumph by passing the ball to a fellow player who will assure the victory because he is in a better position or better qualified. “Point out to us the lessons of the football game,” a young sportsman asked his older friend. And he gave the one that extols the virtue of renunciation: “I will pass my chance to him”—the sacrifice of selfish or vain calculating with a view to the result for the whole.
The child can be shown that when there is a question of committing an infraction of discipline in school, he ought to avoid it not so much because of the effect on the teacher—“He who budges will have to deal with me”—but rather the disturbance it causes for his comrades whose attention is distracted and progress delayed. Discipline was not invented for the comfort of the teacher, but for the good of the pupils. In this way, theoretical teaching is preceded by forming the practical background of the child in an atmosphere of cooperation, and a willingness to help.
An international problem arises: Selfishness or mutual help? What does the Church say on this point? What does the Gospel say? Or perhaps it is a problem of relations between employer and workers, a strike in the father’s factory or in the city. Here too, what does the Church say? What does the Gospel command: Selfishness or reciprocal understanding? Trained in this fashion the young will be ready and quick to understand the social or international doctrine of the Church when they are old enough to be taught it academically. Shown at an early age how to be socially responsible, they will not oppose correct principles, as they only too often do with a wall of prejudices or pseudo-traditions, when their religion or philosophy teachers explain them.
We have accomplished a good deal if we have accustomed the child to put himself as much as possible “in the place of others.” “If I were in such and such a situation, what would I do, what would I think?” We are all wrapped up in ourselves as in a cocoon, the child more than anyone else; particularly if coddled, or accustomed to being waited on. The child must be encouraged to wait on himself and to give service. If for any reason the mother needs to hire help, that is no reason for the child to monopolize such help to his own comfort; he should never be permitted to give direct orders to domestic help.
As much as possible, the children should be given the opportunity to do many little tasks that make family life run more smoothly: to set the table, to dust up a room, to arrange a bouquet, to take care of the baby. Such assignments should not be presented to them as burdensome tasks but as an aid toward the common good, a lightening of mamma’s work so that they are joyful about it even if it demands an effort, upsets their well-laid plans or requires a sacrifice. Often the child will be delighted, proud of the importance of his task. However, care must be taken to appeal not to vanity but to responsibility.
A delicate point to consider is the question of friendships. Should the child be permitted to associate with children who are from a different social class? They will meet in school. If these possible friends are morally good and well-mannered, why not? It will offer a fine opportunity to show that money is not everything, that the only true worth is virtue and human dignity. The child may be too much inclined to pair off only with those who belong to the same social circle or environment; that flatters its vanity. The parents should react to this tendency by teaching the little one that he ought to share with a comrade who is less privileged and, while avoiding indiscriminate associations with anybody and everybody, seek out as friends not the best dressed but those who are the best students, the most truly pious, the strongest personalities for good, in a word, those that deserve the most esteem.
When the time comes for a choice of profession, direct the boy or girl to choose judiciously not according to possible profit or financial returns but according to the possibilities for best serving society, the common good. Generous parents will not hesitate, if the child’s qualifications are adequate and the opportune moment presents itself, to speak of vocations of complete consecration, the priesthood, religious life. There are so many needs in the world. “The harvest indeed is great, but the laborers are few.” They enlist their children’s interest. A priest? Why not he? A religious? Why not she? That supposes a spirit of detachment in the parents, an informed appreciation for the needs of the Church, love of the general good of Christianity, the sacrifice of little hopes for building up a new family. Yes, it means that. Such parents will often call attention to the distress of the world; to the struggle of nations among themselves. They will explain to their children that union alone is fruitful; furthermore, that union alone is truly Christian.
What an inspiring example do those children have whose father has always been a man of broad sympathies and a generous heart, highly social-minded; if in his profession he has always tried to serve rather than merely to earn money; if a lawyer, he has always been concerned for justice; if an industrialist, he has applied himself to bettering the human
aspects of production; if a merchant, he has been attentive to injure no one; if a doctor, he has sacrificed himself to do the most possible good; if an employee, he has given his time loyally and honestly to his work—a worker eager for work well done and the social defense of his profession. The boy and girl learn from this to consider their chosen professions or careers as future social service. They get out of their narrow selfish views which formerly warped their characters—they emerge with souls truly formed.
If we are alert to seize the occasions, everything can serve to teach children to guess, or at least to understand, the needs and requirements of others. A little girl who could no longer be called a baby had not as yet any brother or sister. One day she noticed her mother busy with the details of a layette: “Is all that for Lily, mamma?” She was Lily. “No dear, not for Lily, but for a little brother or sister who is going to come.” Lily was utterly stupefied. What was this? Mother was not working only for her then!
The first school for social consciousness is the family. What a handicap if mother has never worked for anyone but Lily, if Lily remained an only child! We can readily guess what selfishness she would have been capable of displaying.
The family is together: “It’s so stuffy here, I’m going to open the window.” “No, grandmother has a cold.” The child understands it is not alone; others count. The family lives in an apartment. The children are making an uproar. “Gently, children; we must not disturb the people downstairs. Not so much noise.” Others count. The little girl is learning how to keep house. She shakes her dust cloth out of the window. “Did you look to see if someone was passing by?”
To know that other people exist and to understand that we must restrain ourselves for them is the root of social consciousness. A person would think that we all would have it and to spare. Unfortunately, experience proves otherwise. Mother and child go to a neighboring park for play. How tempting to make little sand piles all along the bench beside mamma! “You will see. I will not get you dirty mamma.” “No, my little one, but you are not thinking of the people who may come in a little while to sit on this bench.”
The street as well as a public park can offer opportunities for such lessons. “Step aside dear. Don’t you see that mother who is pushing her baby buggy; let her pass.” On the bus: “Give your place to the lady.” In a train. “Take turns sitting by the window.” “Let’s not speak so loud; it will disturb other people’s conversation or their reading.” On a visit: “The steps have just been scrubbed; clean your shoes on the mat and walk along the edge so as not to track them up for our friend.”
All this is rounded out in Catechism lessons. “Then in heaven I will be with some poor little child, won’t I?” Children of poor families should be taught the dignity of poverty and labor, the duty of contributing one’s best efforts to lift the living conditions and social status of their group. Children of wealthy families should be taught their responsibility toward the poor; they should be taught how far material, moral, and spiritual destitution can go and what they ought to do to learn how to remedy it.
We have not done everything when we have given children the idea and the desire of going to the aid of the poor. There is something even better yet to be done. That is to teach them gradually to try to prevent misery from invading the poor world. We shall never succeed completely in checking it, but what a beautiful work it is to try to spread more happiness among men and women!
As children grow and reach an age of keener perception and of deeper reflection we ought to show them that the problem involves both the relations of social classes with one another and the relations of nations toward one another.
Within a single country, there are those who have what they need, those who have more than they need, and those who have not even the essentials.
Is it not fundamental to establish a condition in the world in which the fewest people possible lack the necessities of life or, better, in which the most people possible can attain a sufficient possession of the goods of the earth, the culture of the mind and the knowledge of supernatural riches? To the degree in which we are impregnated with the spirit of the Gospel, we will desire that our brothers about us are not only cured of their wounds, but preserved as far as they can be from possible wounds and established in a state of adequate human development, and of adequate divine development.
To dress a wound that has been infected is a good deed; to prevent a wound from being inflicted is a better deed. To prearrange indemnity for those who fall into unemployment is good; to strive for a status of work in which unemployment is prevented is better.
Now the conditions of modern living, the economic equipment of society, have thrown a whole section of society into a situation in which life has become very hard, in which “earning one’s living” has become a terrible problem. Young boys and girls must be taught to realize these facts as they grow up. They must open their minds to an understanding of the social problems in their most agonizing aspects; they must prepare themselves to work to the best of their ability to counteract these evils.
When the social questions are concerned with relations between peoples of different nations, then how many problems crop up! Wars, even after treaties have been signed, leave hearts embittered. New difficulties arise. A very correct idea of patriotism is of capital importance!
Is periodic war between nations justifiable? Ought we not do everything in our power to constitute a state of peace in the world by an honest agreement between nations? What procedures should we follow that these desirable understandings be effective? What virtues must be developed in order to reconcile at one and the same time concern for national dignity, love of peace, brotherhood according to God. How can we get different peoples to live together side by side without the grave interests of any group suffering even though each nationality remains deeply concerned for its own greatness?
It is answers to these questions that must be sought in every generation. And for the correct answer to be reached, a whole education on these points must be given, beginning with the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
By Fr. Raoul Plus, S.J. – Taken from a four part series published in Crusade Magazines [Volumes 159 to 162 - May to December 2019]