Jen and I have been Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for nearly two years. We serve volunteer with children in foster care, making sure that they have basic necessities. We also check each month to see if there’s any need for counseling, relationship help, or other resources to navigate life’s challenges.
One thing I have learned through CASA is that it really does take a “village” to raise a child. Parents need the support of teachers, counselors, neighbors, doctors, and a host of other adults to help a child thrive. Nobody raises a child alone.
Parenting in America has become even more challenging with the pace of endless activities, materialism, fear of violence, screen attraction, and fame-seeking. Our children are exposed to constant marketing and entertainment options. But they don’t yet have the neural patterns or a strong “container” of beliefs and identity to discern what’s good and not-so-good for them.
There’s no magic bullet to deal with this dynamic.
But these two things I believe: 1) we all share in the crucial task of raising the next generation, and 2) one of our primary responsibilities is helping children develop a moral frame for life that will guide decisions and community engagement.
Jesus taught, ”The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23)
How one sees the world determines how much light lives in that person.
If one's eye is constantly set on distraction, seeking the next big thing, or getting ahead of others, the darkness is going to grow.
For an increasing number of children, there isn’t a “frame” in which to understand life. Instead it’s just one thing to the next, stumbling through life. The top pursuits default to money, fame, and power.
Each person ultimately becomes what that person beholds.
That’s why a moral lens is essential to help children understand what matters and how to treat other human beings. This vision develops through the influence of parents, teachers, coaches, pastors, and other leaders.
The central question, then, is, how do we teach morals?
We tell stories to our children. Jesus taught and challenged people through stories. He painted verbal pictures of persistent widows, faithful stewards, and patient farmers.
We encourage an interior life in our children. Early on we need to model how to have a time of quiet, reading scriptures and other spiritual devotions, reflecting, and praying.
We invest time in our children. Jesus “discipled” others to model for them a moral, kind, and fruitful life. He did all of this with a centered belief in God’s love and grace and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
We teach our children to serve. Serving on a regular basis develops empathy and compassion.
Honor. Courage. Loyalty. Respect. Compassion. Humility. These are taught person-to-person, by spending time with children, by telling stories that lift up the vision of a moral life. If we don’t teach such virtues, the “container” of a child’s life won’t be strong enough to hold the bigger questions of meaning, suffering, and vocation.
It takes courage on our part as well. It takes a risk to say “Let’s spend some time together.” It also requires humility to say, “I know I make a lot of mistakes, but I want you to know the path I’m trying to follow.” It takes a strong person to admit their own addiction to technology, or how they have abdicated their responsibility to raise a moral child.
Apart from keeping a child safe and providing food and shelter, there’s nothing more important we can do than help a child “grow up” to be a moral person, one with “good eye” with a heart full of light.
So here’s a prayer to illuminate the path:
God, help us not to raise a new generation of children
With high intellectual quotients and low caring and compassion quotients
With sharp competitive edges but dull cooperative instincts
With highly developed computer skills but poorly developed consciences
With a gigantic commitment to the big “I” but little sense of responsibility to the bigger “we”
With mounds of disconnected and unsynthesized information without a moral context to determine its worth
With more and more knowledge and less and less imagination and appreciation for the magic of life that cannot be quantified or computerized
With more and more worldliness and less and less wonder and awe for the sacred and everyday miracles of life.
God, help us raise children who care.
Marian Wright Edelman, from The Sea is So Wide and My Boat is So Small