PARENTING FOR CHARACTER: TEACHING JUSTICE AND COMPASSION
The mantra of today’s child rearing and educational practice is “child-centered.” I believe most would agree upon the importance of a child-centered approach to parenting and education. Here we value each child as a unique individual, and we work together to help each child realize his or her personal and social potentials. This view of child-centered education is healthy and productive.
Unfortunately, during the past 40 years, a child-centered approach to child-rearing and education has morphed into a pathway that leads to self-centeredness and selfishness. This pathway has ignored the role of personal responsibility that children need to understand and embrace to lead a healthy social/emotional life. Today, a child-centered approach to education forgets that for children’s health they need to be “just toward their responsibilities.”
Each child is part of a whole. Although each child is important, each child must also be taught that their individuality is one piece of a larger social structure whether it is family, or friends, or colleagues. Psychological and emotional health requires that a child assume responsibility for their role in their social world. Child-centered psychology and or child-rearing that does not teach children how to assume their rightful responsibilities, will eventually make children prisoners of their own selfish desires and lusts.
Child-centered education should teach individual children to be “just toward their responsibilities,” especially those connected to a larger social structure whether it is family, friends, school, or other social circles. Children have a responsibility to obey their parents, their teachers, their coaches, and any other significant adults in their lives. Children have a responsibility to contribute their portions of work in cleaning the house, their classroom, their school, or their playground. Children have a responsibility to get along with others and be cooperative on a team. Children have the responsibility do their homework, to do their classwork well, and to obey all classroom rules.
In every setting, children, as a part of a social structure, have responsibilities to that structure and the people within that structure. They have obligations, to their parents, to their siblings, to their extended families. They have obligations to the care of their home, their own room, to a share of the work for the upkeep of the house. Children have obligations to their friends and schoolmates, to their teachers and other adults at school.
Educators and parents who truly care about a child-centered environment should recognize that if they do not teach children how to be “just toward their responsibilities,” they will raise unhappy children who never have enough attention from others or enough material goods to satisfy their selfish wants.