Today’s children and young people are often accused of being entitled, self-centred, and spoiled. When one of my sons takes the last biscuit or refuses to help tidy up because “it’s not my mess”, I worry that he may well be living up to these labels. Sometimes my boys appear oblivious to the fact that they are part of an ecosystem of sorts in which their behaviour impacts on those around them.
In their defence, this egocentric tendency is developmentally normal to a certain extent but, as a parent, I also keep the long game in mind. The question I ask myself is what am I doing to help my children feel connected to needs & interests beyond their own? How can I help them to think more in terms of “we” than of “me”?
A CULTURE OF “ME”
It’s not made easy by the fact we live in a culture in which the individual reigns supreme. Broadly speaking, life has become a jostle for attention and a sense that we each need to make everything happen for ourselves & by ourselves. In my opinion, the pendulum has swung too far from the collectivist thinking of past times towards individualist thinking. “Success” has become standing apart from others rather than with them.
In an effort to differentiate ourselves from others, we have become too busy and self-oriented to nurture many of the connections that once sustained us (eg. with our communities, neighbours and interest groups, to name a few). We no longer make the degree of effort we once did to support others and we no longer receive the level of support these connections once offered us. It’s a more lonely and less meaningful way to live, although it’s normalised now and we may not be particularly conscious of feeling disconnected.
Modern society is by no means all bad but this disconnection is a limitation of the current culture in which we are raising our children. Perhaps we can show our kids another way.
HELPING OUR CHILDREN TO THINK AS “WE”
Connection is a powerful source of wellbeing. It is symbiotic in nature, each individual receiving a sense of belonging and giving what it is that they have to contribute. Feeling connected awakens us to both how much we matter and how much others matter.
How we can create a genuine sense of connection in our children’s lives is something I will need to ponder for a while, especially as I, too, am rather entrenched in my identity as an individual. But here are some simple ways I can begin to help my boys see beyond themselves and to think in terms of “we” rather than “me”.
* Be an example of someone with a “we” mentality Our influence as parents begins with our own behaviour and attitudes. Our children watch our way of being in the world and they need to see us caring about matters beyond ourselves. I am looking for ways to contribute further but have made a start. My boys have seen me volunteering to teach at their school & offering practical help to other parents and we talk about the humane & environmental reasons I have switched to a predominantly plant-based diet.
* Invite them to join my efforts to serve others For example, when I have made financial donations to causes, I have given them the opportunity to put some of their pocket money towards it; Thomas helped me to prepare the resources for my teaching at school each morning; and they bake with me for school fundraisers.
* Encourage them to commit and contribute to the groups they’re already involved in For example, doing chores for the family (link), turning up to all games & practices for their sports teams, making an effort to get to know their neighbours and making environmentally-kind choices for the benefit of the planet & those living on it.
* Talk about the “ripple effect” with them I have taught my boys that their actions are like stones dropping into a lake and creating ripples that travel far out on the water’s surface. I point out both the positive and negative ripples their actions create. Sometimes we think big and talk about what kind of ripple effect they want to have in the world.
IN SUMMARY: CONTRIBUTION + BELONGING = WE
Within the ecosystem our children live in are various groups they are part of – families, schools, sports teams, neighbourhoods and, on a larger scale, humanity and the biological ecosystem itself, to name a few. Each group offers our children an opportunity to experience connection.
My suggestions above emphasise the contribution our children can bring to these groups because contribution is the way we reach out to create a connection. The belonging and support we receive are the rewards for having contributed.
If we can raise we-thinking individuals (and become them ourselves), our own ripple effect will hopefully be a slow shift of the larger culture so that future generations can live in a more connected, thriving society.
In the midst of writing this essay, I came across Johann Hari’s book, “Lost Connections”. In it, he explores the many ways we have lost connection in our lives and the impact of this on our wellbeing. I think it’s a really important book and I encourage you to check it out here (not an affiliate link).
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