Posted by Kristen M. Ploetz in Bookshelf on March 20, 2013
One of the immediate benefits of joining Twitter is finding like-minded folks. Or them finding you. Such is the case of how I came to be asked to write a book review for Teaching Kids to Be Good People: Progressive Parenting for the 21st Century, by author Annie Fox, M.Ed.
I have just finished reading Teaching Kids to Be Good People, and can honestly say how lucky I am to have been asked to read and comment on a truly remarkable, entirely timely, and much needed parenting resource like this. Every parent, particularly those with school-aged kids and teenagers, should get their hands on a copy.
The overriding message of Teaching Kids to Be Good People is that we, as parents, have the ability and the duty to teach our children how to become empathic, morally-minded and self-aware citizens. That one of our primary obligations to our kids is to give them the tools to live as happy and good people despite the many conflicts that our world often throws their way, like bullies, prejudice and mean-spirited behavior.
But this task is not as daunting as it sounds, for us or our children. This is because Ms. Fox so effortlessly guides the reader with her conversational prose, real-life examples, personal stories, and teaching tools (like introspective questions for you to ponder as a parent, and activities to be done with your children). Moreover, this is the first book that I have read in a long time that offers examples with modern situations, particularly with teens (social media interactions, LGTB issues, sexual activity, school relationships, just to name a few). This is what makes the book so very relevant and important.
There are several areas that Ms. Fox addresses, each compelling in their own right. For example (and these are just a few), there are chapters about teaching our kids how to manage their emotions, including negative ones like anger and sadness (hint: it’s not to stifle or ignore them like so many of us are guilty of doing ourselves!), how to act morally in social situations that are not entirely comfortable to do so, conflict resolution, learning how to understand how others feel (empathy) and act or react accordingly, and (my personal favorite) how to help our children develop social courage in the face of opposition or unacceptable behavior by others (like witnessing bullies or interacting with people who claim to be friends, but act otherwise).
Considering how long it has been since so many of us parents have been in middle and high school, it is comforting that someone like Ms. Fox has her finger on the pulse of today’s youth and what kinds of things we need to start doing (or doing more of) so that our children can cope with the dynamic and shifting social landscape surrounding them. The author understands and reminds us of just how much the media and social pressure can affect our children’s behavior (and that of their peers) in a negative way, well beyond what any of us were exposed to when we were that age ourselves. Reading this portion of her book reminded me of the palpable animosity that we all experienced during last year’s election, particularly the name-calling. Yet, we are the adults that our children look to for model behavior—how can we expect our kids to act benevolently even in the face of differing opinions when so many of us do not act that way ourselves? This passage from the books gets at the core of this truth (using the example of kids who might have a nasty thing to say to a peer via email/text):
“Teaching kids to be good people includes helping them see that US vs. THEM is a myth. We are all US. And there are no justifications for being mean. None. Of course, from time to time, our kids might still get into conflicts with others, but when they consider crossing the line, our voice needs to be inside their head. That just might give them enough lead-time to delete that barb before they press SEND.”
Annie Fox also believes, as do I, that every child is good at his or her essential core, but that sometimes there are conflicting messages received by the child (from parents, society, peers) about what is acceptable behavior, both within ourselves and in others. With this book, I felt empowered and as though I can proactively prevent some of this behavior in my own child in a meaningful way, and that hopefully these same messages will ripple through her circle of peers as time marches on.
With her “What Would You Teach Here?” examples, she gives a short fact pattern of a situation that a child has encountered, forcing us to think about actions and analysis that we would take, and then providing us with her measured yet educated take on the issue. She also has several exercises and activities at the end of each subject area that we can each do with our children to drive the message home and, in some cases, actually practice and create some “muscle memory” for the inevitable real-life situations. Though I have not personally undertaken any of those (yet!), I am certain that my husband and I will be using this book as a resource in the future when our daughter is a bit older, and we can incorporate them into our family dialogue about the values that we want her to embody: compassion, respect, generosity and empathy. Here’s how Ms. Fox sets the stage for some activities (conversation starting points) in one particularly relevant section (we live in a very diverse community):
“Most children’s lives are confined to their community (neighborhood, school). Yet the world they are becoming a part of is one in which faraway lands and ideas of people with different experiences are more easily accessible than ever. Teaching 21st century kids to be good people includes helping them be accepting of and comfortable with all kinds of people. With this self-confidence, they will be brave enough to do good things, near and far.”
This is but one example in Teaching Kids to Be Good People that demonstrates how the author is tuned in to the vastly different landscape that our children are growing up in, especially considering the wide use of the Internet and social media within the global context
Though some of this book certainly felt geared toward parents of slightly older children (mine is 5 ½), I honestly think I read this at exactly the right time so that I can understand what lies ahead for my daughter, our family and her peers. We are entering the world of public school in just a few months, and her social sphere will widen in ways I can only imagine at this point. It will certainly warrant a re-read it again when certain age-related issues come up down the line.
When reading Teaching Kids to Be Good People, I really felt like I was sitting down over coffee with a trusted and non-judgmental friend, a fellow parent at that, who has a profound insight about how to change the tide of mean-spirited actions and words that we just hear too much about these days when it comes to our young people. It did not feel preachy or holier than thou. Instead, I feel inspired and empowered to do the work, my job, as a parent to help calibrate my child’s moral compass not just early on, but along the way.
Please read this book. If enough parents read this and use it as yet another tool for raising our children, there is wonderful change ahead. I’m sure of it.
Copyright (c) 2013 Kristen M. Ploetz