Bringing Up Progressive Children


 One’s living in a proactively progressive family is not easy from a number of standpoints. Especially as a youngster, one can feel torn between wanting to fit in with contemporaries and standing up for an altogether different viewpoint and lifestyle — an alternative that could cause one to be ostracized and shunned by peers.

Relative to this, I well remember the day that Justin, the empathetic son of leftist friends, burst through his kitchen door and started to cry. His mother and I asked him about the reason and he replied that he couldn’t figure out the response that he should take in a heartrending situation. Therefore, he simply felt overwhelmed in frustration and anguish.

Then he went on to describe the situation that was causing him so much grief. It involved his wanting to be protective towards a neighborhood newcomer, a small Hispanic boy on whom children of other ethnic groups were mercilessly picking. However, he wasn’t sure of the way to effectively go about it.

Meanwhile, he, himself, didn’t want to be bullied, along with the new boy, for supporting him. All the same, he earnestly tried to include him in local group activities even though others ridiculed and rejected Justin’s choice to do so. Overall then, it just wasn’t working out for the Latino regardless of whatever Justin, reasonably, tried to do.

Then Justin went on to related that he absolutely hated that the relatively lighter skinned children called the darker skinned ones the “N” (ni^^*r) word and called anyone else the “N” word when a person fumbled in the basketball games, that transpired on his block. In short, he, as a deeply sensitive individual, simply couldn’t stand the gap between the ways that the other children treated each other and the way that he, himself, wanted to interrelate. (He well knew about the degree of torment that pariahs can experience as his parents operate a shelter for homeless people totally down and out in their luck.)

Justin went on to declare that, all considered, he knew what was ideally right to do. That wasn’t his dilemma. It was that he didn’t know how far to go so that his actions could be effective. If he went “over the top” in his acceptance of the Hispanic outsider, he’d be scorned, himself, and it had been hard enough for him to be accepted in his neighborhood, a low income locale where his parents ran the refuge. Yet he couldn’t change conditions for the outsider if he weren’t to go far enough. Meanwhile, he could not help this outcast in any way if he always relentlessly defended him. Indeed, he would, if he always were to intervene, cause the boy to be weak and dependent on Justin rather than his learning to become more adept at successfully sticking up for himself.

How well I recalled Justin’s dilemma as I had faced it countess times, myself, as a girl. However, I didn’t mention this. Instead, I chose to tell Justin about my daughter’s actions since he knew her. So perhaps my sharing accounts about her would be more meaningful, I surmised, especially as she was just a year older than him and was a person to whom he looked up.

Therefore, I told him about the time that some very popular jocks in her school were publicly endorsing the KKK (Ku Klux Klan) [1] and making revoltingly racist remarks about particular dark skinned people on campus. This went on for several days and my daughter thought, during that time, about the difference between tattling on someone and alerting adults when something is dangerous. During the process, she decided that their statements WERE dangerous to the community at large. Mulling it all over further, she finally decided to neither let their behavior off the hook, nor tell about it to school officials. Instead, she decided to directly confront them.

So, with butterflies in her stomach and weak shaky knees, she strolled up to them and looked them calmly in the eyes. Then, in a voice brimming with disdain and anger, she forcefully declared that she found their bigoted remarks destructive to the school at large and personally repugnant in the highest degree. As such, she would turn them into the principal if they didn’t desist immediately since their focus was highly damaging to every single person in their school.

Shocked at the quiet and absolute conviction that she exuded, they never mentioned KKK another time in public — at least not of which she knew. At the same time, she started to develop quite a little reputation, amongst other boys and girls, as someone to whom they could turn for advise when some situation seemed unfair. As such, this one action that she’d undertaken had an sort of ripple effect in her school. It indirectly changed the outcomes in other future incidents.

In addition, she joined the Gay/Straight Alliance Club as the only heterosexual person who had the courage to sign up due to anyone who did getting immediately branded as a homosexual or lesbian. However, she felt that the small snubbed group needed support. Besides, as I explained to Justin, she wasn’t worried about the label in that the few students to whom she felt closest, all felt the way that she did about these sorts of matters.

So maybe Justin needed to identify some friends who shared his outlooks and values, I suggested. Maybe then the risks involved with trying to prevent some children from harming others could be more effectively handled by him as the stakes for his taking a stand would not seem as tricky in some ways.

All the same, I agreed with him that it IS hard to figure out whatever is best to do so as to optimally benefit everyone all the way around. Therefore, he should maybe reflect on his problem further and speak with others to see their varying ideas about alternative ways to handle it. Then after talking with them, he might possibly have more resources in himself to better figure out a more constructive way to respond in future circumstances mirroring the ones that he’d faced today.

Besides, no one could ultimately tell him what was right or wrong to do, I mentioned to him. This sort of understanding would have to rise up from himself and he, at the same time, should not expect any quick easy solution, nor perfection from himself. Likewise, he shouldn’t shoulder all of the burden for outcomes. Some are simply beyond one’s capability. Even so, one needs to try to fix whatever troubles oneself, I continued.

At the same time, I went on to relate, my daughter was by no means perfect when standing against the norm. After all, she caved when it came to buying expensive fashionable clothes and in following other trends in order to fit in with the prevailing crowd’s mentality. As such, maybe life was, in the end, all about one acting with courage based on principles when one felt an absolute imperative to do so. However, it might be otherwise OK to slide, slide with “the little stuff.”

In this vein, she felt that it was OK to not be a stickler on the less significant matters — the ones that counted not so much. After all, one didn’t want to be a total outsider when it came to conformity to one’s cohorts.

Meanwhile, my daughter had developed some orientation towards independent thought and behaviors early onward. In fact, I always tried to involve her in decisions about her own life — encouraging her to try different ways to go about reaching her goals as long as nothing that she proposed was unsafe or detrimental.

For example, she sat down with me in her bedroom, when she was five, along with a bunch of big boxes. At the time, I explained that we were going to explore about three different sets and what goes into them. Next I explained that one category would comprise of clothes, toys, books and other items that she liked and wanted to keep for any children that she might have in the future.Yet they would all together comprise of those objects that she, herself, had outgrown. As such, we’d store these in the attic.

Afterwards, I mentioned that the second set would be whatever she still wanted to use and keep, which would remain as is in drawers, on shelves and in closets. After all, why disturb them?

Meanwhile, the third would consist of objects that she didn’t want to keep for herself, nor any potential offspring. On account, these latter articles could go to the poor and, then, I explained about poverty. At the same time, she had a faint sense of poverty’s meaning in that she knew of her own paternal grandfather growing up in a foundling home in which his only toy was one roller skate too large to use. (Another orphan had gotten the other one.)

All considered, she was happy to engage in making the choices concerning her possessions. In addition, she and I took pleasure in remembering all of the fun that she had had with some of the things that we were donating. We also enjoyed imaging the pleasure that other children would receive from them.

Afterwards, we went through my own belongings and separated out an assortment of effects that I, too, no longer wanted to maintain. Then we got in the car to drive to the Material Assistance Center of the AFSC [2].

For my daughter, I figured that our going there would provide a wonderful opportunity for her to talk with volunteers involved with aiding others. She could also be provided with some exemplary compassionate role models and learn about the overall operations. In this sense, it would be like an educational field trip, and she could gain a seminal understanding of social justice in the process. On account, I was in high spirits when we took off for the donation center.

Yet the scene that I surveyed, when we arrived there, astonished me. How surprising it was to see volunteers carefully cramming items into giant mailbags to be added to the mountainous heap of sacks already pressed against one wall. Puzzled, I asked the director of the operation as to the reason for this gigantic mound.

In response, she shook her head and said that the group had simply run out of funding to get the goods delivered and that they were, for the most part, being stored for now as contributions were coming in faster than were the charitable organizations coming to get them.

Considering this for a moment, I offered to anonymously provide several hundred dollars up to a certain fixed amount if she could advertise about it in order to get a two for one dollar matching grant started with my offer. In other words, I would provide one dollar for every two that would derive from outside patrons.

She liked this idea and so did my daughter, who offered to provide some of her own money (mostly pennies that she’d saved) into the mix. We three, then, ended our conversation with the thought that the director would call me when she had the further funding all set.

A few weeks later, she phoned. Then, my child and I returned with both a check and a heavy jar of pennies. The jar of pennies was particularly important to my daughter as we had had a long discussion about the amount that she should keep for herself compared to the amount that she would offer to help others.

In such a manner, my child, early on, began to learn about planning for her own future rather than glibly giving some provision all away. She also learned about the value of being generous and empathetic. All in all, the experience provided a good lesson in self-protection relative to altruism.

In addition, we, upon our return to the center, were overjoyed to be told that a teamster hearing about the fund drive had donated a huge old truck. Furthermore, an elderly driver, one with a big rig license, had come forward to deliver the mail sacks — the voluminous number of them slated to be delivered to several indigenous reservations in the Dakotas wherein a critical need for clothing, blankets and other supplies had been identified.

What’s more, the director, confidentially, told me that the oldster was driving the load at no cost as he, personally, felt that he had to make up for severe wrongs that he had done years earlier when he had been a covert CIA operative. In this sense, he was interested in atonement, reparation and amends, she added.

Meanwhile, the look on her face, while telling me this, signaled to me that I definitely did not want to inquire about the actions he had carried out as an underground agent. Some sense that I had hinted that they were rather horrific.

Therefore, I was slightly nervous when he offered my daughter a cassette tape of children’s peace songs and poetry as a personal thank you to her for supporting his trip. Nonetheless, this seemed particularly thoughtful as it could show that someone else, someone involved in the same objectives as my child, valued her relatively smaller contribution. How touching!

It was also moving that this trucker, to save money so that it all could go to fuel, planned to sleep at highway rest stops in the back of the truck during the long haul westward and back rather than allocate any greenbacks to motels. Indeed, I heard later, from the center’s director, that the trip was a great success and that the money contributed by everyone involved had just barely been enough to cover the gasoline costs!

In later years, my daughter and I engaged in many other volunteer efforts together. These involvements included our setting up and managing a revolving fund for impoverished people, who would borrow money (i.e., during a month that they couldn’t quite make their rent) and pay it back with whatever interest on the loan that they could muster to add to the fund for others to use. In addition, we cooked and delivered food to homeless shelters, inspected and packed food at the Worcester County Food Bank [3], picked crops at Community Harvest Project [4], donated decorative pumpkins to hospital pediatric wards (when we learned that my daughter’s plan to provide Halloween candy to children too sick to go out to “trick or treat” wouldn’t work) and carried out many other humane pursuits.

Eventually, though, my daughter increasingly chose her own benevolent activities to independently conduct such that, in later years, she got engrossed in many project without me. These consisted of her organizing a winter coat drive, assisting at battered women’s and animal shelters, lending a hand to build the first school house in a Nicaraguan town, investigating a (Walmart) sweatshop not far from that town, facilitating the success of a charitable toy program, working for a public service center and, eventually, landing a job with at risk, troubled teenagers the year that she graduated from college.

Simultaneously, she liked the latter endeavor so much (despite that it was very demanding work as a number of the children were in dire straits), she decided to undertake graduate work in psychology to be better trained for the same work in the future. As a result, she undertook graduate work in guidance counseling and has worked for years as a counselor. Meanwhile, Justin embarked upon a public service career as a NYC school teacher. So it looks as if both want to help the next generation, the one after them, to improve!

In the end, it seems important that children, starting at a tender age, are exposed to opportunities in which, through being generous to others, they can begin to see the merit of social service. In a similar vein, their having access to many positive role models to point the way and set examples can also be worthwhile. Similarly, it can be helpful to try to ensure that peers are present, who ratify atypical behaviors, such as my child exhibited when she stood up to the KKK endorsing jocks and affirmed the maligned gays and lesbians at her school.

All such behaviors matter, it appears. Especially this looks to be so as the examples that progressive youth set can help further youngsters to, in turn, question the status quo while passing such learning onward to new generations

Relative to this, the manner in which one disciplines a child makes a big difference in the types of values, standards and principles that they practice. For instance, a tyrannical style of discipline can create sullen resentment and belligerence. At the same time, it can cause a child to easily cave into bullies and want to emulate the controlling despotic parents. It, likewise, teaches children not to question or stand up to authority figures, nor anyone else with power over them. All considered, overt control and force do not yield constructive results for children.

At the same time, love withdrawal, coldness and shaming from adult care givers, while these can induce obedience, often can creates weak, co-dependent children. These techniques also creates insecurity as conditional love can undermine self-confidence and capacity for independent action since the recipient of such practices constantly seeks assurance of approval and love from the emotionally inconsistent adult. As such, while it is a less direct and more subtle form of manipulation than the above authoritarian style, it can be just as ruinous.

A third method that is can be damaging involves the heavy use of extrinsic reinforcement such as many school administrators employ. Little gold stars stickers, trophies, trinkets, medals, constant praise and so on can reinforce the inability to do something simply because it is right to do and because one has (intrinsic, internalized) pleasure from the moments that one decisively undertakes right actions. Instead, one comes to rely on externally provided inducements — i.e., rewards, commendation and so on.

All considered, it would seem that a combination of employing cognitive induction and shaping techniques would be best to train children towards acceptance of certain patterns. These orientations are explained at reference five [5].

When coupled with time set aside to reflect upon infractions and positive outcomes for actions, the latter scope, from a number of standpoints, offers a very constructive way to help children develop into independent, resourceful, responsible individuals — ones who are not afraid to buck the system when need be.

All in all, Justin’s and my daughter’s generation has to face many of the same wrongs as mine. These include grievous injustice against minority groups, glaring disparities between economic classes, assorted other forms of inequity, environmental demise, war and other grave troubles.

Unfortunately, some of these conditions seem to barely change regardless of the amount of effort that anyone applies to foist positive alternatives into place. All the same, many young people do want to pitch in and are trying to address serious societal and environmental problems. This is heartening and creates some optimism about the future despite that so many ranging ills desperately need to be corrected.

In connection, my daughter’s said to me, on a few occasions, that she feels that we are all intertwined in society. Therefore, whatever happens to those who possess the least advantages will, indirectly, impact her quality of existence. At the same time, she feels that it is her obligation to help those who are hindered in life often through no fault of their own. In addition, she considers herself privileged and, as such, thinks that it is her ethical duty to boost others.

In other words, uplift must come from those in a position to do so based on their having greater opportunities regardless of whether these advantages stem from economic, intellectual, educational, health related or other sorts of causes. Furthermore, she has suggested that one’s rendering this aid to others takes nothing away from oneself, but can definitely make a monumental difference in the lives of others and oneself. Indeed, she seems to have learned this awareness well starting with the time that we eagerly packed boxes in her room when she was five years old, ever so many years ago.

In the final reckoning, Justin and my daughter are quite fortunate. They are so because they seem to agree with Alan Paton’s thought that “There is only one-way in which one can endure man’s inhumanity to man and that is to try, in one’s own life, to exemplify man’s humanity to man.” At the same time, they appear to have realized the truth in Pablo Casals’s position that “The capacity to care is the thing which gives life its deepest meaning and significance.” Accordingly, their world seems full of value, hope and joy!

If you want o help your child’s future, then raise her or him to be active in supporting the world. It is the ONLY way forward!

Watch what we can do if we become early involved in improving the world:

[1] The KKK is described at: Ku Klux Klan – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (
[2] This organization is depicted at: Material Assistance Center : Cambridge : New England Region … ( ).
[3] This link provides information about the food bank and poverty in MA: WCFB-Worcester County Food Bank ( ).
[4] An overview of this outfit can be found at: The Farms of Community Harvest Project ( ).
[5] An explanation of these methods is at: Inductive Reasoning: Encyclopedia of Psychology ( ),
Inductive reasoning – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia ( ), Philosophy of science – Wikipedia, the free encycl… ( ) and Shaping Encyclopedia of Childhood and Adolescence – Find Art… ( ).

Sally Dugman is a writer from MA, USA



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