It's that time of year again, of the ritual endings and beginnings. As I sat at my son's moving up ceremony from preschool in June, I wished he would stay this way forever: innocent, smiling and chubby-faced. I know in September he'll join the other kids on the bus and soon that innocence will be lost. he safety and warmth of home will fade away, and in its place will be the bullying, tough talk and wanting to be like everyone else, whether through actions, clothes or the latest video games. I know this because it happened to my older son, now 9, as it happened to me at some point. I stopped being me and started trying to be like everyone else.
I wondered how I could prevent my kids from making the same mistakes I made. How can I teach them about reality while still protecting them from it? How can I keep the world open to them, like a proverbial oyster, and ensure they become good people without the sense of entitlement that so many seem to have these days? I know I can't fight all their battles, but I think it boils down to integrity. As Staples High School Principal John Dodig stated in his recent graduation speech, there is more to life than simply success and materialism for its own sake. "Being a good person is what defines you in the eyes of others, and most importantly, in your own eyes. You will be faced with choices, small and big, that can change your life and also affect others' lives. Reach out to help those in need."
But where to start? Start anywhere, even if the action seems small.
I don't have all the answers and don't often make the best choices. Especially before dinnertime, when the kids are screaming and the TV always seems to be just as blaring. But by helping our kids give back to others and to their community, they learn kindness and compassion and become better people. While there are so many more wonderful charities and causes out there, I just wanted to share a few here. Hopefully, these organizations and others like them can inspire your kids with a new sense of responsibility and a positive focus.
The NYC-based DoSomething.org is one of the largest organizations in the county that helps young people rock causes they care about. Kids ages 12 and older can join or start their own Do Something Club and take action all year through Do Something's campaigns and their own projects (apply at dosomething.org/clubs). You can also apply for a Do Something grant to start your own community project--the organization gives out two $500 grants per week. For more information, visit dosomething.org.
Through its Kids Who Give contest, national food brand Farm Rich celebrates kids ages 7-17 who are making a difference in their communities and helping to make the world a better place. The annual contest recognizes kids across the country and awards more than $10,000 to their projects and communities. For example, last year's winners rode mountain bikes to fight childhood cancer and gave iPods to sick children. Entries are accepted each spring and winners are announced in late summer. For more information on this year's contest, check out kidswhogive.com.
In addition to these organizations, All for Good (allforgood.org) is a service of the Points of Light Institute, which inspires, equips and mobilizes people to take action that changes the world. Whether you have five minutes or five days, visit them to find opportunities to help others locally or anywhere you choose. Sometimes, just reminding kids that one person making a small contribution can make a big difference is enough to quiet some of the noise of materialism that constantly rings in their ears.