What the hell did we witness on January 6th?
It sure as hell wasn’t top of the heap examples of good citizenship for kids. That’s for damned sure.
I sat the whole day glued to my social media feed watching TV. I haven’t been that transfixed since 9/11. But that’s exactly what we saw.
We saw a domestic terrorist organization try to overthrow the duly elected Congress of the United States to install some kind of strongman leader. To argue otherwise is extremely naive.
How did that happen here?
For too long our country has told itself a story. America, you see, is this shining city on a hill. It is the one indispensable nation; a beacon of all that is good and righteous in the world. We don’t invade other countries, we liberate them.
We don’t fail to provide for our fellow citizens, we encourage rugged individualism. But none of this story is actually true. In telling this lie, we’ve failed to do the hard work of making a society function.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. The Smartest Dads out there know that every one of our homes is a society where people have to do their fair share. You might take out the garbage, while your partner does the dishes.
Kids without chores don’t learn the value of living in the family. Good citizenship for kids starts at home. How do we take those lessons of family and extend them to the larger world around us?
We need to ask ourselves: what is good citizenship? What does good citizenship for kids look like? It’s hard to imagine you can find it when you’re doom scrolling all day whilst living through a coup, but there are some encouraging examples of good citizenship for kids out there if we just know where to look.
What is Good Citizenship for Kids?
Good citizenship is pretty straightforward. Good citizenship starts when each individual takes personal responsibility for the health of society. If that goal is in your heart, and in your kid’s heart, it’s pretty hard to go wrong. I found some examples of good citizenship being practiced by kids that I hope will inspire you to help your own children through this difficult time.
Good Citizenship For Kids: Ocean City, New Jersey
I’m not normally one to think too much good comes out of New Jersey. Maybe Kevin Smith, and that’s on a good day. But Ocean City New Jersey provides us with a great example of kids being good citizens and helping out the community.
For the past several years, Katie Bowman of Ocean City has been helping her community through an organization she founded called Kookie Kids. The kids bake cookies each year and sell them to create a fund to purchase gifts for those less fortunate than themselves. Katie and her family have used their resources to give back.
The lesson here is that it doesn’t take much to look out for our neighbors. Keeping an eye on one another is one of the easiest things we can do to help make sure that our society runs smoothly.
Kids don’t always have the resources that adults do, but there are always opportunities to do the little things.
Citizenship Example 2: Looking Out For The Earth
Not every example of good citizenship by kids has to be a small thing. By now, we’ve probably all heard of Greta Thunberg of Sweeden. Greta, who recently turned 18, has been leading a School Strike movement for Climate since 2018.
The goal of the strike has been to remind world leaders that climate is really a problem for the next generation. Whatever inaction we continue to suffer today will wreak more havoc for the future.
Not everyone can be an activist like Greta Thunberg. It takes some extreme support to be able to make this kind of difference. But that doesn’t mean that kids shouldn’t look out for those beyond their immediate community either.
One of the charges of the Constitution of the United States is that we build a better union to secure the blessings of liberty and prosperity for not only ourselves but our posterity as well. Greta is looking out for all our future children.
Example of Good Citizenship Example 3: Being Well Informed
Kids love school, right? Of course not. But it is important to teach them why we send them every day to a classroom. Part of it is for their own education, sure. The bigger reason we have free, appropriate, public education is about the rest of us.
Education is about society. In 1761 John Adams, future president and statesmen, suggested that literacy was at the heart of a free state. Adams stated asked, “how can any man judge unless his mind has been opened and enlarged by reading?” He makes a good point. In an era of sustained disinformation campaigns, critical reading is more important than ever.
Every time I have to force my six-year-old back to his studies I remind myself that this is not only for him but for our neighbors as well. Starting early and playing cooperative games with kids can help teach them those critical thinking skills.
Good citizenship requires informed citizens. Well informed citizens. Discerning citizens. Children are naturally curious but are not naturally critical.
As parents, we have to remember that teaching our kids to think critically about the world, to challenge ordained wisdom not for the sake of challenge, but as the crucial of truth, is all-important.
A society that seeks to right the wrongs within it can only do so if we train the next generation to be thoughtful.
Citizenship Example 4: Calling Out Injustice When Found
As citizens of the west, our lives come with some despicable externalities. It might be the excess carbon that Greta has organized strikes against, or the manner in which our smartphones are built.
While no one individual can be responsible for the actions of every international corporation we should show our children that good citizens call out injustice where they find it. Even when that injustice is within the organization of otherwise normal groups.
Take the case of Olivia Chaffin, a girl scout in Tennesee. Olivia is a badge winning scout for selling over 600 boxes of cookies. But when Olivia learned about the plight of other children her age working in palm oil fields in Asia she became worried that her products were “tainted.”
Sure enough, the supposedly sustainable palm oil in the Tagalogs she had been selling was mixed with other sources, clearly creating a moral dilemma for the otherwise upstanding scout.
What did Olivia do? She has organized her troop and others to protest with the Girl Scouts of America. Ultimately, she hasn’t been selling the cookies.
Did Olivia end child labor exploitation on a global scale? No. But she went out of her way to think critically not only about her actions, but the impact her actions had on others on the other side of the world. Each and every one of us can make an effort to exercise that same level of criticality in our actions and purchases.
Maybe by being a little more thoughtful, we can make the world a better place.
Citizenship Example 5: Looking Out for One Another
2020 was a banner year for doing things a little differently. We did school from home this year. We learned which neighbors had failed their own high school biology… anyway, great year.
But we also saw some really great examples of kids looking out for one another. One such example came from Arlington Virginia. Kids continued to write the traditional letter to Santa this year, but his elves saw some different requests.
Instead of toys, games, and other frivolities, the children were often asking for masks and good health for their community.
Even when we can’t really do anything at all, good citizens still think about their community. Sometimes, it’s just the gesture that counts for a whole lot.
Where We Go From Here?
It’s a crazy world out there. In order to make the world a better place, we all need to be good citizens. Making sure our kids practice good citizenship is just as important. They are, after all, the future. Thankfully, there are not only some helpful resources out there for us to look at but some really inspiring examples as well. Olivia Chaffin in Tennesee is good citizenship for kids personified. She got informed about her world. She thought critically about her role in it. Finally, she came up with a plan to make the world, and her community, a better place.
We might not be able to move the world by ourselves, but together there isn’t much we can’t accomplish. That’s a lesson I want my boys to learn.