My mind has been swirling lately with some thoughts on parenthood and civic duty. It probably has something to do with the fact that I’m a parent and there has been a lot of political talk on Facebook lately. Everyone and their mother is a Constitutional scholar these days, ranting about gun ownership and gay marriage. But how many of us actually own guns? How many of us have a vested interest in whether or not gay folks get married? We might care about these issues, but they don’t hit us where we live.
In this humble girl’s opinion, we should spend less time talking about these issues, and more time focused on what we can do to better our culture in a practical way. And that starts at home, with our own children.
So, that’s the context of what I’m about to tell you. That’s where my brain was this morning when I pulled up Facebook. Bleary-eyed, with coffee in hand, I checked my newsfeed. I thought I’d see more of the usual—friends announcing engagements, Instagrammed photos of some girl’s dinner. You know, the norm.
I scrolled down my newsfeed, past photos of cute babies and unabashed selfies, when something stopped me in my tracks. I blinked a couple times, and I’m pretty sure I actually said, “Derp?!”
It was a photo of a beautiful blonde-haired, green-eyed girl. In blackface.
On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
I didn’t know the darling girl. She wasn’t a Facebook friend of mine. But I am friends with some of the high school girls I mentor, and when one of them “liked” this photo, it popped up on my newsfeed. I clicked on the photo and read the comments. And I was astonished.
The photo was up to roughly 50 comments. Many of them were baldly racist. The girl who posted it wrote terribly offensive and racist remarks. I’m sure she thought she was irreverent and cute. Instead, with her bright eyes gleaming from beneath the unnaturally dark skin, she looked every bit the spoiled, ugly girl she is on the inside.
(That’s unfair! Low blow! She’s just a child! I’m sure some of you will cry. To that, I reply: Hey, I didn’t give this girl a microphone or a platform to spew nastiness. Her parents did, by allowing her to have a Facebook account before she was mature enough to use it with class. Don’t let your kids enter an adult arena and expect them to get a “pass” when they prove too immature to be there.)
That photo and the ensuing comments were the final straw. I can’t do anything about the poor character of this girl, but I can use the same forum she used to combat this all-too-prevalent ugliness. I can throw my voice as far as the Internet will carry it.
Parents, I’m talking to you. Perk up your ears and get your heads out of the sand.
If you have any doubts about your child’s character, log into her Facebook account. Look at her messages. How does she portray herself to those whose opinions she cares about most? Is she the same person you see at home? Or is she someone else when she thinks you’re not looking?
Parents, it is your civic duty to raise better children than this. You have 18 years to nurture and cultivate your little angel before catapulting him or her into the world. You have less time than that to intentionally instill upstanding character in your child. You have a responsibility to every other citizen in this country to produce intelligent, thoughtful, compassionate, respective adults. Anything less than that is an egregious mismanagement of resources.
As a youth mentor, I am very familiar with the way parents handle this kind of thing. It’s like a parental brain cannot compute these types of behavior. Surely, the child whose diaper you changed, whose shoelaces you tied, who hair you put into adorable pigtails, could not be in possession of such ugly character. And so, you turn a blind eye. You write it off. You excuse the behavior. But I’m here to tell you that this behavior is symptomatic of a heart condition. It points to a larger issue– one we can’t afford to leave unaddressed. As hard as it is to believe, your little angel is capable of atrocious sin. She was born that way, like it or not. And your job as a parent is to give her the gift of the Holy Spirit, who alone can refine her character. (But you gotta help out.)
Parents, ask yourselves:
Is my child respectful of other people? Does she take her responsibilities seriously? Is she proactive about her own betterment? Does she joyfully help others? Is her presence in school and at home uplifting? Do people look at her and remark about how mature and well-rounded she is?
Or, is my child half-hearted, self-centered, short-sighted, disrespectful of others’ time and resources, and disinterested in her own growth? Does your child view the world through the lens of her own wants and desires? Be honest. Would a person look at your child and come away with a less-than-shining impression of her?
Will your child be a net positive for this world, or a drain on society? Does your daughter think about what others can do for her, and the exclusive attainment of HER dreams, HER goals, and HER desires? Have you raised a child who is geared toward thinking, much as a toddler does, about the immediate gratification of her desires? In short, does your child think in terms of, “How do I get mine?” as opposed to, “How can I give back?”
It’s not enough, parents, to produce adult children. It’s not enough for your child to be pleasant so long as she gets what she wants. A child with good character is gracious, even when she doesn’t get her way. A child with good character puts the wants and needs of others before her own. A child of good character is careful with her own reputation, and the reputation of her parents. A child of good character naturally becomes a role model, and takes that responsibility seriously. A child of good character doesn’t post an offensive photo on Facebook, whether or not it’s meant to be a joke. Because a child of good character takes her reputation more seriously than that.
If you hold something precious in your hands, you’re careful not to drop it. If what you have in your hands is cheap, you don’t care what happens to it. The same goes for character.
Parents, we need to take our job more seriously. We need to raise the bar. One of my favorite sayings is, “You can never be overdressed or overeducated.” I think it indicates that a person can never be too classy. We should be raising kids with a similar perspective. And this is possible, I’m certain. Because several of the girls I mentor are this way already. I have had the honor of getting to know their parents, and I can say with confidence that these children are the result of extremely intentional parents. Parents who don’t turn a blind eye to the faults of their kids. Parents who spend extensive time talking about important issues. Parents who encourage their kids to volunteer, to spend time with other kids of good character, and to accept responsibility for their words and actions.
It is my prayer that I raise children like this. I pray that I never fall into complacency, passively accepting that ignorant platitude, “kids will be kids.” There is no excuse for producing children of poor character. There is no such thing as harmless disrespect. Raising high caliber individuals is the responsibility of every parent. And it starts when your children are young. A child who is disrespectful at age four will grow into a teenager who is disrespectful at age 16. There is no time like the present. And there is no time for tolerance when it comes to bad character.
You owe it to your children—and you owe it to mine—to take character development seriously. You owe it to your country, and you owe it to our global community.
One day, your child will be in the driver’s seat, directing the course of this culture. Are you looking forward to the ride?