Kids Need to Look Beyond Themselves
It seems that even today’s kids are not immune to the very same exterior worldly influences which daily prey on each one of us. At every turn, we are constantly bombarded by media messages which promote “self” in every conceivable manner. We are told to be the best, look the best, get the latest and most improved gadgets in the market, pamper ourselves, promote ourselves, seek fame and fun. The list is endless, but the message is the same. I must think solely about myself and do for me.
Let’s face it, most children already have a predisposition to think only about themselves, and this self-absorption prevents them from looking beyond themselves to others who are less fortunate, poor, chronically ill, deprived or even lost in sin.
We, therefore, as parents, educators and those who influence the lives of children have our work cut out for us. We must be the ones to change their focus off of “me” and onto the world beyond so that there can be a more correct perspective in their lives.
One of the practical ways that we can do this is to recruit our children to volunteer. In the beginning, they might complain and not want to do it, but once they begin, it will surprise you just how much they personally get out of it.
I remember a particular event just before Passover when our middle-school children were asked to assemble shopping pushcarts and fill them with food items for Holocaust survivors. When the kids got to the site, their first task was to unload a very large truckload of food supplies that were packed together in many heavy cartons. As I stood there watching, I noticed that as the children unloaded and hauled each carton to the requested place, they would run back enthusiastically to get the next carton. I have to admit that it was a pleasure to watch these strong, happy young people seemingly take joy in completing this task with eagerness and exhilaration. Once the truck was emptied, the next task was to assemble the carts and fill them with the supplies.
Those kids worked tirelessly for at least an hour and a half, and when they were finished, they were heartily applauded by the Holocaust survivors and other invited guests to the day’s event. It was clear that the children took pride in their accomplishment. This gave them a sense of worth and purpose to the extent that all they could talk about on the way home was when they could do this again.
Children have a real need to see the world in its proper perspective. They need to see and understand that many children go to sleep without having had three meals, without a warm, soft bed and without parents. Children need to see a bigger picture of the world around them – one which contains suffering, hardship and deprivation – not to depress them or strip them of their innocence but rather to sow a vision into them which helps to shape a larger purpose. Once they are able to internalize the lives of others who are needy and less fortunate, they will be able to develop empathy, compassion and a desire to make things better for them.
This will serve them not only in their early years but also throughout their adult lives. It will be a protection from the type of hedonistic/pleasure seeking orientation which is so prevalent in the world today.
Other places that may be worthwhile exposing your children to would be old-age homes, children’s hospitals and other such places where children can bring cheer to those who are shut-in or need some encouraging faces. Such trips can begin to instill a desire to serve, stay in touch, think of others and even be involved in regular volunteering.
Teaching children to serve is probably one of the best things we can do for them. They need to grasp the concept that service is the highest form of humility – one which was shown to us by Yeshua, our Messiah. He literally poured out Himself in the service of others while He was here on earth. We’re all familiar with the story of how He washed the disciples’ feet, but the example of feeding others, healing the sick and sowing hope and encouragement to all who heard Him testifies of a life that was beyond personal considerations and worldly pursuits.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with pursuing personal aspirations or monetary gain, but the world has, in many ways, lost a healthy balance of self-ambition and serving others. Part of that happened when past generations sought to “give their children the things they didn’t have when they were young.” That new generation after the 50’s often referred to as Baby Boomers became upwardly mobile and with the financial independence that many of them were able to achieve, children became less and less mobilized to do chores at home, wash the car, learn to cook, clean part of the house and even ask if they can help. Many of today’s children grumble and complain when asked to do anything – even bring their parent a cold glass of water.
When a child feels a sense of entitlement, there is not much that they are willing to do to help. In fact, they seem to think that they are “owed” much of what is given to them. That kind of thinking is not only wrong, but it speaks to an inverted family situation where the parent has erroneously sent a message that parents do for children but not vice versa.
If a child has a proper appreciation for all that a parent does for them, they can also see that there needs to be a two-way acknowledgement of gratitude expressed in tangible ways. Children need to be told what is expected of them, given the hard work and care that is bestowed upon them by loving parents.
It would not be out of place, therefore, to make sure that a child grasps the many little things that are done for them, some of which may be taken for granted but which shouldn’t be. When a child sees a tired mom return home from work, there needs to be a conscious understanding that doing small things like setting the table for dinner, taking out the garbage or clearing off papers from the kitchen table would be helpful and a way to express their gratitude for all the hard work put in by the parent. Likewise, parents need to think of ways that their children can help, assist and serve the entire family. A family is a composite of all its members, and each one must be expected to do something to share the burden of work and responsibility so that it doesn’t fall on just one person.
If this is not something that you’ve adopted in your own family, it’s never too late to start. It may necessitate the need to have a family discussion setting down new rules with an explanation why it’s important for everyone to share the work. It can be presented as a “team effort” where everyone does their part in order to work together effectively and with consideration.
Such a policy will go a long way in taking the focus off of the children and opening them up to the world of responsibility and duty. It will help children to look beyond themselves and begin to consider the feelings and thoughts of others as well as the self-sacrifice of those who love them.
Here are some practical suggestions of child delegation:
- Washing dishes; stacking dishes in the dishwasher
- Setting the table for a meal
- Sweeping and vacuuming the house
- Garden cleanup, mowing or raking the lawn
- Putting out the garbage
- Cleaning one bathroom
- Washing the car
- Dusting or polishing
- Cooking or helping to prepare meals
- Hanging the laundry or just doing the laundry
Yes, some of the above list may have to be learned by your children, but once they get the hang of it, think about how much more free time you as their parents will have. You may actually be paying money for the outside services of some of the above, and that saved money can go toward more important things to benefit the family as a whole. Just the services of a monthly gardener can add up to a nice vacation fund.
Your children are not indentured servants, but they are and should be helpers when possible. They should be raised to understand the value of service to others begins at home, and they should, at a young age, already begin to independently think of ways they can implement their service, gifts and talents.
Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it. Prov. 22:6
This post is also available in: Hebrew