Ask Not What Your Country Can Do for You: Teaching Your Child Good Citizenship
Here are some suggestions for teaching good citizenship. Using Thomas Jefferson’s magnificent words, found in our country’s Declaration of Independence, examine with your son or daughter every citizen’s “unalienable rights”: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Right to life. Teach your children that all human life, by virtue of being created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), is sacred. Help them to memorize Exodus 20:13: “Thou shalt not kill” (KJV). Explain to them that all forms of “life-stealing”—murder, suicide, abortion, and euthanasia— are sins in the eyes of God. Teach them to respect our physical environment and all of the earth’s inhabitants, that they are to be a guardians and caretakers of God’s creation.
Right to liberty. Teach your children that all human beings “are endowed by their Creator” with equal dignity and worth and are entitled to civil liberty under God’s law. Read to them Colossians 3:11: “Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all,” and Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Reflect with them on the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” Teach your sons and daughters to be grateful to Jesus Christ who, according to Scripture, proclaims freedom to the prisoner and gives release to the oppressed (see Luke 4:18).
Right to pursue happiness. Real happiness is the contentment that comes from a morally good life (see Matthew 5:6). Read with them Ecclesiastes 3:12 and 12:13. Put together they read: “I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. . . . Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”
Help to develop your child’s spirit of volunteerism. There is an amazing array of volunteer activities that, in the opinion of participants, literally changes lives. One group of young men and women went to a Sioux reservation in South Dakota to do painting, tiling, and carpentry at a YMCA center. Another group traveled to Juarez, Mexico, to help build a serviglesia, a church to serve the poor. Ten or more young people headed for Appalachia’s “Valley of Despair” to plant trees and work on construction and furniture-building projects.
Obviously, many of the volunteer activities mentioned above are for the older teen and are supervised by adults. But there are many local, less dependent activities, such as volunteering to walk the dog for elderly neighbors, mowing lawns and doing light housework for a widow, or collecting used toys (in good condition) for low-income families.
I also recommend reading the local newspaper or watching the evening news with your children. Discuss regional, national and global events. Once a week, you could hold a dinnertime discussion (not a lecture) about a social, legal or political problem. Ask your son or daughter what they think.
Fathers and mothers can model volunteerism to their children and spend time with them too, by coaching or refereeing their child’s soccer team, baseball team, or basketball team; help out with practice, or be a team manager. If you can’t coach, another idea would be to volunteer with your child at Catholic Charities. Volunteer to help with maintenance at a shelter or crisis pregnancy center. Try becoming a girl or boy Scout leader.
The sky’s the limit! The important thing is that you and your child do it together. Whatever you choose to do, the best thing you can spend on your son or daughter is time! Your time. And the best way to pass on a sense of honor and citizenship is to show your children what you value. If you value your community and your nation, so will they.