THE BLOG

How to Raise Children Who Choose Peace

02/17/2015 12:25 pm ET | Updated Apr 19, 2015

When young people choose to join terrorists, we ask ourselves, 'Why?' We surmise that they come from families and societies that offer them no opportunities. Or, that they choose the perceived glamor and power associated with bombing and killing, or it could be a factor much more subtle, involving how they feel about themselves and their position in society.

We are very much involved in a global culture war in which the stakes are our children and young adults, who are key to continuing a peaceful or violent world; we, the media and parents can strongly influence how they respond to propaganda.

In this war between peace and violence, one factor particularly stands out -- terrorists' recognition that the future is in children and youth; they seem to recognize that young people react more strongly according to the way they feel, rather than what they think. Whichever society, peaceful or violent, helps them to feel powerful, respected, needed and included, will win them.

Along with a cunningly devised Internet campaign, terrorists are targeting children with propaganda and weapons training attempting to create a global cultural shift that glamorizes violence, in order to enable their continual takeover of society.

Like almost any poison, an antidote is available and that lies with us,
the global parents. In order to counter the messages sent to our children, we must create or enhance our own, positive approach and make it more powerful than the cleverly disguised negative words and images of violence-based groups.

Legislation and weaponry to fight terrorism will touch only the symptoms, not the cause of any social malaise we have inadvertently developed. The best cure for our children's view of society is in creating a pervasive ambience of equal opportunity as we instill elements of self-respect and trust, inclusion and acceptance, as well as strong self-esteem -- not only in our children, but with others in our circles.

Simple solutions with complex components, they involve a commitment to certain difficult decisions that will lead to shifting our paradigm from a me-oriented, win-lose one to a we-oriented, win-win one that will level the playing field and create opportunities. The win-lose approach we see today involves political and religious polarization ; in the U.S., politically, we see a strong focus on expediency rather than integrity. It's also evident in contact sports, emphasizing beating one person/side or the other without a productive, sustaining result and often physical devastation to the players.

If this win-win approach is new to us, it may take time before we see its benefits and results; starting now, though, we can begin to enact changes that can continue on, once we establish the framework. Patient consistence is the key. What elements must we address?

We must create:

• A value system based universally on integrity and peaceful interaction. We can still enjoy healthy, productive competition, though. It can come in the form of competitions to produce innovations that will benefit society, and include elements of cooperation and collaboration which, subsequently, can spill over to related initiatives.

• An atmosphere of cooperation and collaboration.

• Equal education leading to employment opportunities for all.

• A shift of role models from athletes and entertainers to heroes who contribute to the betterment of society; for example, Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg, Malala Yousafzai, Arianna Huffington, Elon Musk, Christiane Amanpour and so many others.

Our ideal society won't be socialistic; it will not be government-created, but achievement-based. Opportunities to achieve according to ability will be in place, but outcomes will depend on individual creativity, hard work and discipline. Trust and respect will have to be integral components throughout.

MAKING IT WORK

With all children, across the board ethnically and economically, instill in them a strong sense of value, self-esteem, confidence and inclusion; afford them the respect you endeavor to elicit from them:

a. Allow them to make decisions/choices, within your preset parameters, from an early age. For example, lay out two outfits for small children: 'Would you rather wear this one, or that one?' We increase the complexity of choices as they mature. For behavior, let them know the consequences for going beyond the parameters you set, and enforce them consistently. As children reach an age of awareness, they should be allowed to make some mistakes in judgment. Without accusing, parents should then explain and discuss what went wrong and encourage children to conclude what would have been a better alternative.

b. Listen, more than talk with children; learn what they think/want, and gently discuss pros and cons with them -- guiding them non judgmentally, without decrees, so that they learn to make good decisions on their own.

c. Give children a sense of responsibility: from toddler onward, assign them age-appropriate chores in order for them to feel a valued part of the family group. Of course, they will resist at times, but firm consistent practice will keep them going as they build ownership and pride in family well-being.

d. Remember that children learn much more from your behavior than what you tell them. By example, teach critical thinking based on issues rather than labels and name-calling, thereby moving them away from extremist (non-productive, exclusionary) political, religious and social positions to more centrist ones that allow for inclusive problem-solving.

e. Teach effective communication skills, including conflict resolution and negotiation. Encourage them to join Toastmasters (or Junior Toastmasters) and their school's debating society.

Understanding and teaching our children what ultimately makes them feel that a peaceful, productive society is preferable to a chaotic, violent one could be our greatest accomplishment, and our most important legacy. When we each work toward that goal, we all do so, and we will create a healthy, strong, enduring society.