One of the ways that social media has impacted our culture is to place a lot of emphasis on the self. This new term that’s recently come into our lexicon, “selfie,” really says it all. Rather than looking toward others and the vast world in which we live, we’ve turned the camera around, focusing more and more on ourselves. Ironically, tools like Facebook and Instagram, which are supposed help us to be more “social,” have instead become vehicles for self-promotion and attention.
Don’t get me wrong. Social media has its place and can be used very positively. But with its “likes” and personal opinions, there is an inherent selfishness that can’t be denied. It’s all about me, what I like and what I’m doing. Such unhealthy attitudes have become pervasive in Western society, affecting everyone but especially our kids.
Whether you’re a parent or not, this trend should concern all of us because radical independence only leads to isolation and loneliness and ultimately breaks down the fibre of society. As much as we think we’d like to do everything for ourselves, it’s not very good for us. We weren’t meant to be completely self-sufficient and independent; it’s not the way God created us. For happiness and fulfillment, we need each other, to live and work together in a community. In light of this reality, we should consider what we can do to help counteract and balance these tendencies.
One of the best ways to break out of this mentality and “get over yourself” is to serve others. I know it sounds intuitive, but we sometimes need reminders of the obvious. Am I suggesting that we all become missionaries or go work at the local soup kitchen? Those are certainly worthwhile endeavours, but it can be something much simpler. We can start by serving those closest to us, our family. Everyone – even toddlers – can help out. Learning this from a very early age is actually important, as it helps children overcome the egocentric tendencies we’re all born with. Doing good old-fashioned chores around the house is a natural way to keep your children involved and connected to the family, and help them understand their role in it.
Another way to promote selflessness is team sports. Being part of a team builds character and helps instil strong values such as dedication, cooperation, and conflict resolution. We’ve seen the value of this in our own family over the years. The only caution is not allowing sports to become too much of the focus. If the children’s activities start to dictate the entire family routine, you may need to rethink your priorities, especially if those activities take place on Sundays. We must be careful not to fall into the mistake of allowing other things to take precedence over going to church or spending quality time together as a family. As children get older, it’s important that they continue to contribute to the family, regardless of what they’ve got going on.
In summer when schedules are more relaxed, it’s easy to find ways to instil this attitude of helpfulness. In addition to camps, which certainly can be fun for kids, look for ways for your children to volunteer their time. Giving of themselves in this way builds confidence and helps kids see what they’re capable of – their “talents” of kindness, compassion, and caring. Many organizations such as the Humane Society or neighbourhood recreation centres offer volunteer programs for older kids. Or see if your church is looking for help with Vacation Bible Camp or some other project. One summer, our family “adopted” a section of the garden at our church and were responsible for keeping it neat and weed-free. Another idea is to encourage those young, strong bodies to help out a neighbour in some way, whether it be sweeping the driveway, mowing the lawn, picking up the newspaper or taking care of a pet while they’re away. It’s really less about the type of work they’re doing and more about developing positive attitudes and good work habits, making service to others a part of their everyday routine.
Whatever we do, we must try to foster gratitude, to help our kids be grateful for what they have and for the opportunities they’re given. They aren’t entitled to be on sports teams or take dance lessons or go to summer camps. It’s a privilege that many children don’t have. Teaching our kids to say “please” and “thank you,” as simple as that may sound, is a great practice we can promote from an early age. These “magic words” say a lot about a person and take you far in life. When I put my kids to bed at night, I encourage them to think of the good things that happened that day, what they have to be thankful for. But I’m also quick to remind them that even the not so good things can help us to learn and grow, so we should be thankful for them, too!
Finally, we must consider the role models that our kids look to. Are we offering them good examples of helpfulness and service, both from the world and from our own lives? Do we live for ourselves or for others? Ultimately, creating a more selfless society begins with each one of us – our own attitudes and actions. No, you don’t need to delete your Facebook account or throw away your iPad… Just carefully consider the way you – and your kids – use time and utilize social media. Time is the most precious commodity we possess today. Imagine what an amazing world it would be if we were all a little more generous. It’s our job to help guide and inspire our kids to make this a reality – for their generation and for many more to come.
- Kelley Holy