Today, I’m happy to introduce Jon Tingley. Jon was a coworker of Hubster’s during the past two years, and I’m honored to call him a friend. He’s a writer and higher education professional. On his blog at jontingley.com he focuses on topics including social justice, student affairs and social media. Below, he shares his perspective on how you can talk to your child about issues related to social justice. Thank you, Jon!
If you’re reading this today, you’re probably someone who (either now or in the future) wants to raise their child in a world where people are respectful of each others’ difference and where we continue to bridge the gap between those who have power and those who are marginalized. Now I’ll confess, I’m not a parent, but I am an uncle to 4 little ones and I’d like to provide them with some understanding of what seeking justice in society means. I’m sure some of you may be thinking, “I don’t understand social justice, so how can I teach my child about it?” Many parents that I know have fallen into this mindset and think that it’s too complex an idea to share with their children. In a way, they’re right. Social justice as a system challenging, sometimes cliché term is sometimes complex, but the ideas behind this movement are not.
Let’s start at the beginning because you’re right, you might not want to talk about social justice if you don’t know what you’re talking about. The idea is pretty simple when you break it down to the original Jesuit principles of justice and equity for all people. There is an analogy that I’ve heard many times about what social justice is (and isn’t) and I’ll share it with you:
Imagine walking past a river in your community and you see someone drowning. Of course, you jump in and save that person and drag them to shore. The second you get up, you see two more people drowning and you pull them out too, this keeps happening until you’re too exhausted to help anyone else without drowning yourself, so people keep coming down the river and you can no longer help them. When you did this, you were providing a service—and that’s great. Providing service to those who are less fortunate is great and it helps those people for a short period of time. Think about that same situation, but instead of continuing to dive into the river you walked upstream and noticed that there was someone throwing people into the river. This time you walk up to that person and convince them to stop throwing people into the river—you were then acting as an advocate for social justice.
The basic idea of social justice is knowing who you are and what your privileges are (white, Christian, educated, heterosexual, male, able bodied, etc.) and recognize that simply because you are those things, you are afforded opportunities and access to resources that others are not simply because they are not white or not able bodied or not heterosexual. Now, how do you have this conversation with your children?
If you’ve read down this far in the post, you’re probably already doing many of the things that will prepare your child to be someone who is in-tune to their identity and is an advocate for those who are different from them. As you already know, many of us adopt the values that were shared with us as a child and if you value these things, you’re most likely passing these ideals on to your children. On the flip side, that also means that you should be aware of the language you use, the jokes you tell and how you choose to frame your conversations about people who are different. There are some resources out there to help you have these conversations like this great book list on Amazon.
It is highly likely that if you introduce topics about inclusion and individual difference, having deeper conversations with your child as they get older will be much easier. Something I do with students who live in residence halls is a cultural blob activity to help them understand their identity. This activity could easily be adapted to use with a child who is a little older to talk in basic terms about who they are. Here’s a link to download the instructions. If this is a topic that interests you, I’d also suggest picking up The Social Justice Handbook. It provides some easy explanations and definitions of justice and helps explain the several different issues that contribute to injustice in our society.
The biggest takeaway for you should be to continue doing what you’re doing by modeling an inclusive environment at home. You can enhance this by learning more about how you and your family personally benefit from privilege and then sharing that understanding with your children. The resources that I’ve listed above can help frame the conversations that you have in your family, but it really comes down to the day-to-day reality you create for you and your family based on the language you use and the judgments you make about those around you.
If there’s anything more that you’d like to discuss or want me to elaborate, leave your thoughts in the comments. I’d love to talk to you about it.