How to Raise Kids Who Care In a Consumer Society


Published:

The daily news can make issues like poverty and the environment seem overwhelming, yet by focusing on issues in ways that make sense to children, parents can raise socially conscious kids who care about the world beyond themselves.

"One of the best ways to build socially conscious kids is to give them opportunities to reach out and help others," says Heather Norman-Scott, Ph.D., a Durham psychologist. She suggests starting out by talking about topics such as the environment and caring and respecting our world and all living creatures.

Talking about issues

Fuquay-Varina mom Cindy Tatem and her husband have an open communication policy with their children. "With society and the world the way it is, we can only pray that our family fundamentals will help them process the world around them," Tatum says. She adds that she and her husband focus on compassion, the human spirit and tolerance through their faith in hopes that their children can "pave the way for something awesome when we are old and gray."

A clinical psychologist and Director of Child and Family Services at the University of North Carolina, Jennifer Youngstrom, Ph.D., says that talking about topics and exposing children to a range of people and settings in a safe way encourages social awareness.

"Parents could begin with a discussion of current events and the news, reading children's books about important historical figures who have championed social equalities, encouraging children to participate in small acts to conserve water and resources, and visits to urban and rural areas," she says.

Youngstrom and her husband recently took their children, ages 6 and 8, with them to a conference in India. "We discussed poverty, population density and the role of women ahead of time," she says.

"During and after the trip, we have discussed our good fortune and differences in the roles of women in each society," Youngstrom says. As a result, her children continue to talk and write about their experience.

"Our kids returned to the U.S. extraordinarily thankful for many of the things often taken for granted [like] food, shelter, clothes, non-arranged marriages, and they have happily and repeatedly donated clothes, toys and food since our return."

To keep from worrying children or scaring them about big societal issues, Norman-Scott suggests focusing on helping and protecting to empower kids and teach them about their community. Several local families are taking steps to do just that.

Poverty and homelessness

Jeannine Herrick, a Durham mother of two, thinks involving her children in addressing issues like poverty teaches them three important things: gathering, giving and gratitude. For her son's upcoming fifth birthday, friends have been asked to bring inexpensive art supplies for her son and one or two pantry items.

"My son understands that not everyone has enough to eat, and he thought it would be nice to take the food to the local food pantry," Herrick says. "He gets to help plan all the details of his parties and still thinks that the 'specialness' of his birthday is about the celebration, not the presents."

Samantha Vermillion wants to teach her children about reconciliation, justice and poverty. "When we see someone asking for money, we try to have breakfast bars and water to give," says the Durham mother of two girls, ages 2 and 4.
She sees her faith as a guiding factor in how to communicate and teach these issues to her daughters, particularly homelessness. "When they ask who the man is, I explain that he is someone God loves very much, who may have had hard things happen in his life, but that if Jesus were here he would give him a feast and be his friend," Vermillion says.

For parents who may be concerned that weighty issues such as poverty will scare their children, Youngstrom encourages communication. "First, explain to the children what they will see, plan ahead about how to keep them safe during the encounter, and discuss the events in simple language afterwards. Parents can discuss how they've created safety and the relatively low likelihood of the situations occurring [to their family]," she says.

'If [my daughter] sees a can at the park,she brings it home so we can recycle it.'
— Sheri Sampson

Environmental issues

The Sheppard family of Chapel Hill was concerned about environmental issues, so they participated in a "carbon challenge" to measure the impact of their lifestyle choices on the environment. They found that some of their decisions — living in a smaller home, having one "family" car and one smaller car, using compact fluorescent bulbs and line-drying clothes — were effective ways to keep their environmental impact low.

Along with their green habits, mom Claudia Sheppard wants to communicate positive messages to her 10- and 8-year-old daughters. She doesn't want them to feel that "all hope is lost," she says, "but I don't think that they feel like that as long as they are being empowered."

Susan Quinby-Honer, owner of Red Hen Enterprises and locally known as "the Worm Lady," advocates teaching kids about the dramatic problems associated with our environment and lifestyle. "The earth is sick. It would be a scary thing if you didn't give them a solution," she says.

Quinby-Honer talks about composting and waste reduction to children in preschool through high school by taking worms into classrooms. Quinby-Honer's motto — "Starve the landfill; Feed the earth" — has produced young environmental activists.

Sheri Sampson was amazed at how quickly her children, ages 2 and 5, became intrigued with environmental issues, particularly recycling. She and her elder daughter put Habitat for Humanity Cans for Homes recycling bins in her daughter's preschool. They also arranged for the Habitat folks to talk to the preschool students about the program, which uses money earned from recycling to build homes.

Sampson's daughters caught the recycling bug. "If [my daughter] sees a can at a park, she brings it home so we can recycle it," Sampson says. Like many parents, Sampson attempts to balance environmental conservation messages. "I don't want to make the earth's situation seem too serious or gloomy," she says. "I want her to care, but don't want to stress her out."

Animal rescue

Noelle Stam, 7, of Durham was so inspired by the idea of helping sick, abused and neglected horses that she dedicated her most recent birthday party to the Triangle Chapter of U.S. Equine Rescue League.

"I liked helping the horses, because some people don't treat them very well," Noelle says. "I think I have too many toys anyway, " she adds. Instead of presents, she asked friends and family members to make donations.

Her mother, Daphne, encouraged Noelle to follow a charitable interest. "I had just purged a bunch of pink plastic from the playroom and despaired at the thought of adding more," Daphne Stam says.

A recent news story about local animal rescue leagues also spurred the action. "In my own charitable giving, I try to focus on local groups," Stam says. "I told her I was very proud of her for making that choice; it was a very unselfish, wonderful thing, and she beamed. And even though her birthday was weeks away and she had plenty of time to change her mind, she never wavered," she adds.

Cultural diversity awareness

Durham mother of two Beth Messersmith is passionate about teaching her young children about diversity.
"The biggest thing for us is proactively making an effort to ensure that they have lots of people of different backgrounds as special parts of their lives," she says. To achieve this, the Messersmiths chose a culturally and ethnically diverse neighborhood and preschool. They participate in local festivals and plan play dates with families that differ from their own.

"We try to particularly encourage friendships and play dates with children who have a different background than we do: being raised by two moms, coming from a different country, being of a different race," Messersmith says. She believes that by having these relationships, she and her husband communicate their family values.

Live up to your beliefs

Messersmith also is an active participant in the Triangle MomsRising chapter that plans community service and community involvement actives in which even young children can take part.
"I believe that the more you integrate service, tolerance and respect into your own day-to-day life and into your child's life, the more likely it is that they will grow up to believe that these are important," she says.

Durham dad Jeff Frank was politically radical as a younger man, which caused a lot of conflict with his own father. Though his politics have balanced out over the years, he struggles with how to parent in a way that fairly conveys his beliefs.

"As I face decisions in raising my son, it is important that I recognize that I am not looking to indoctrinate him in my belief system," Frank says. "My goal is to offer all I can as a role model and guardian, while allowing him to develop into a free-thinking individual."

Many parents feel that modeling the behaviors they want to see from their kids is the best way to teach about the hot-button issues that today's children will face.

Chapel Hill mom Christine Jernigan says, "I struggle with many of these issues. The consumption one is probably most important to me. I do not let my children watch television because I feel the marketing is mercilessly geared towards them."

She is troubled when she overhears parents complaining around their children about possessions. "Kids pick up on this," Jernigan says. "I let my children know through the way I talk and buy that we have enough. I describe our house as a big house and focus on how lucky we are to have it."

Ultimately, she thinks the example her family models will teach her kids about what is important. As Jernigan says: "Be who you want your kids to be."

Robin Whitsell lives in Chapel Hill with her husband and three children.

 

Community Involvement Opportunities

 

The following organizations and Web sites provide community service information and help match individuals, families and groups with volunteer and service opportunities.

Kids Connect
www.kidsconnectnc.org
A virtual and actual community of kids and adults that creates and identifies local and global volunteer activities for young people.

Triangle MomsRising
www.trianglemau.wordpress.com
Local nonpartisan group focused on activism and community service that is generally concerned with issues affecting moms and families. Plans to have volunteer activities for families.

Triangle United Way Volunteer Services
www.unitedwaytriangle.org/volunteer
Online list of volunteer opportunities across the Triangle, including projects for groups.

Volunteer Center of Durham
www.thevolunteercenter.org
Local organization that lists volunteer opportunities, some of which are appropriate for families.

Volunteer Match
www.volunteermatch.org
National organization helps match volunteers with projects in local communities. Can search to request matches suitable for children.

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Related Content

Weekend Family Fun Across the Triangle

Dec. 6-8: Community Day at the Museum, Teen Science Café, Live Raptors and Pop-Up Art

Holiday Gifts That Foster Motor Development

The latest 'Oh, Baby!' column

Helping Children Through Winter Holiday Routine Changes

The latest 'Understanding Kids' column
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

December 2019

Come by the Finley Center any time during the day to participate in a collaborative community art project celebrating what you are thankful for! Play a game of “Roll a Turkey” and take home...

Cost: FREE. Registration is not required.

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Girls ages 5-12 take their favorite doll and have a creative time together preparing for the holidays. Register by emailing llpolkhouse2@gmail.com.

Cost: $22/attendee, $20/sister

Where:
Historic Polk House
537 N. Blount St.
Raleigh, NC  27604
View map »


Telephone: 919-676-6368
Website »

More information

Fun for the entire family, enjoy this wonderful, witty retelling of a classic fairy-tale. With a score consisting of well-known pop songs, follow Snow White and her Seven Dwarves as they try to...

Cost: $10-$60/person

Where:
Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
2 East South Street
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
Telephone: 919-996-8700
Contact Name: Blake Jones
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Fun for the entire family, enjoy this wonderful, witty retelling of a classic fairy-tale. With a score consisting of well-known pop songs, follow Snow White and her Seven Dwarves as they try to...

Cost: $10-$60/person

Where:
Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
2 East South Street
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
Telephone: 919-996-8700
Contact Name: Blake Jones
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Did you know bucks or male deer can grow a new set of antlers each year? Explore pelts, skulls, tracks, and scat of white-tailed deer through hands-on discovery stations. Then learn about the...

Cost: For all ages; FREE. Registration is required for everyone

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd
Apex, NC  27529
View map »


Telephone: 919-662-2854
Website »

More information

Fun for the entire family, enjoy this wonderful, witty retelling of a classic fairy-tale. With a score consisting of well-known pop songs, follow Snow White and her Seven Dwarves as they try to...

Cost: $10-$60/person

Where:
Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
2 East South Street
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
Telephone: 919-996-8700
Contact Name: Blake Jones
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Please join Admissions, Division Directors and our Head of School as they talk about Duke School’s unique program, specifically for incoming kindergarten through fourth grade students for the...

Cost: $0

Where:
Duke School
3716 Erwin Road
Durham, NC  27705
View map »


Sponsor: Duke School
Telephone: 919-416-9420
Contact Name: Logan Blaylock

More information

Kids hike, make projects and engage in nature activities. Ages 5-8. Register online. Choose course #127198.

Cost: $9/resident, $12/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Have you ever wondered what happens to our wildlife during the winter? They have a variety of adaptations to help them get through the cold months. Come explore some of their techniques then take a...

Cost: Free

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
View map »


Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
Website »

More information

There are a lot of dangers in the woods for deer and rabbits! Read a story about these mammals and practice hiding from predators during a fun game, then make a deer-themed craft. For ages 3-5...

Cost: FREE. Registration is required.

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd
Apex, NC  27529
View map »


Telephone: 919-662-2850

More information

Design and create a keepsake apron with vibrant markers and other fun decorations. After completing your apron, enjoy baking and decorating your own individual cake. Ages 6-10. 

Cost: $35/resident, $45/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
Cary, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Fun for the entire family, enjoy this wonderful, witty retelling of a classic fairy-tale. With a score consisting of well-known pop songs, follow Snow White and her Seven Dwarves as they try to...

Cost: $10-$60/person

Where:
Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
2 East South Street
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
Telephone: 919-996-8700
Contact Name: Blake Jones
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Come talk about books and eat pizza. No assigned reading prior to the meeting. Call or stop by to register: 919-245-2532.

Cost: Free

Where:
Orange County Public Library
137 W Margaret Lane
Hillsborough, NC  27278
View map »


Sponsor: Orange County Public Library
Telephone: 191-924-52539
Contact Name: Libbie Hough
Website »

More information

Parents of children learn age-appropriate social skills for children ages 3-6. Register online by Nov. 28.

Cost: $22/person or $33/couple

Where:
Project Enlightenment
501 S. Boylan Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Website »

More information

Fun for the entire family, enjoy this wonderful, witty retelling of a classic fairy-tale. With a score consisting of well-known pop songs, follow Snow White and her Seven Dwarves as they try to...

Cost: $10-$60/person

Where:
Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
2 East South Street
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
Telephone: 919-996-8700
Contact Name: Blake Jones
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Please visit the Homeschoolers of Holly Springs 4th Annual Holiday Market Day. Student entrepreneurs will be showcasing their products while learning about running their own businesses. All...

Cost: Free admission

Where:
Hope Community Church
2080 E Williams St
Apex, NC  27539
View map »

More information

As a Christmas gift to our community and surrounding area, Wake Forest Presbyterian Church delivers the true Christmas story in a stirring virtual “walk” through Bethlehem to the stable...

Cost: Free

Where:
Wake Forest Presbyterian Church
12605 Capital Blvd
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Sponsor: Wake Forest Presbyterian Church
Telephone: 919-556-7777
Contact Name: Meghan Reynolds
Website »

More information

Want a fun arty Friday night activity for your teen? We've got the Teen Art Takeover just for them. Once a month we open up the community clay studio just for the 11-17 set. We have art...

Cost: $5 Resident/$6 nonresident

Where:
Chapel Hill Community Clay Studio
200 Plant Road
Chapel Hill, NC  27514
View map »


Sponsor: Community Clay Studio and Chapel Hill Teen Center
Telephone: 919-968-2878
Contact Name: Robena Meek
Website »

More information

Fun for the entire family, enjoy this wonderful, witty retelling of a classic fairy-tale. With a score consisting of well-known pop songs, follow Snow White and her Seven Dwarves as they try to...

Cost: $10-$60/person

Where:
Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
2 East South Street
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
Telephone: 919-996-8700
Contact Name: Blake Jones
Website »

More information

Join the three ensembles of the Cary Youth Voices for choral music. Purchase tickets online. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Greenwood Forest Baptist Church
110 S.E. Maynard Rd.
Cary, NC  27511
View map »


Website »

More information

On season 6 of American Idol, Melinda Doolittle stunned both the audience and the judges with her powerhouse vocals and her personal charm. She placed third in the voting, and has since gone on to...

Cost: $28 + taxes and fees

Where:
The Clayton Center
111 E. Second Street
Clayton, NC  27520
View map »


Sponsor: The Clayton Center
Telephone: 919-553-1737
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Meet at the Waterwise Garden (first parking lot on right) No preregistration required.Join our bird enthusiast, Vernon, for an easy walk while looking and listening for our feathered friends....

Cost: FREE

Where:
Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Pkwy.
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Lake Crabtree County Park
Telephone: 919-460-3355
Contact Name: Carol Cunningham
Website »

More information

Give rugby a try. Take part in tag rugby pick-up games every Saturday morning at Baileywick Road Park, near the Second Shelter.  No experience necessary. All ages. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Baileywick Road Park
9501 Baileywick Rd
Second Shelter Field
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: Raleigh Redhawks Rugby
Contact Name: denise travis
Website »

More information

See award-winning houses from the Town of Cary's 9th Annual Gingerbread House Competition on display. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Cary Arts Center
101 Dry Ave.
Cary, NC  27511
View map »


Website »

More information

Girls ages 5-12 take their favorite doll and have a creative time together preparing for the holidays. Register by emailing llpolkhouse2@gmail.com.

Cost: $22/attendee, $20/sister

Where:
Historic Polk House
537 N. Blount St.
Raleigh, NC  27604
View map »


Telephone: 919-676-6368
Website »

More information

Ages 4-12 enjoy free arts and crafts. Registration not required. Children must have adult accompaniment. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Halle Cultural Arts Center
237 N. Salem St.
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Website »

More information

Take your American Girl to enjoy crafts, games, tea etiquette and more. Registration required online. Ages 5-10. Choose course #127007 for the 11 a.m. tea or #127008 for the 1 p.m. tea. 

Cost: $21/child

Where:
Middle Creek Community Center
125 Middle Creek Ave.
Apex, NC  27539
View map »


Website »

More information

Get ready for the holidays with festive activities, shopping, a holiday concert at 5 p.m. and much more. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Lafayette Village
8450 Honeycutt Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Website »

More information

Make an angel out of polymer clay to hang on a tree. Register online. Choose course #127353.

Cost: $19/resident, $25/nonresident

Where:
Cary Arts Center
101 Dry Ave.
Cary, NC  27511
View map »


Website »

More information

Kick off your holiday season with horse-drawn carriage rides, hot apple cider, live music, handmade crafts, holiday activities, and a visit with Ol' Saint Nick.

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Oak View County Park
4028 Carya Drive
Raleigh, NC  27610
View map »


Sponsor: Historic Oak View County Park
Telephone: 919-250-1013
Website »

More information

As a Christmas gift to our community and surrounding area, Wake Forest Presbyterian Church delivers the true Christmas story in a stirring virtual “walk” through Bethlehem to the stable...

Cost: Free

Where:
Wake Forest Presbyterian Church
12605 Capital Blvd
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Sponsor: Wake Forest Presbyterian Church
Telephone: 919-556-7777
Contact Name: Meghan Reynolds
Website »

More information

Ages 3-12 and their fathers enjoy a night of dancing, light refreshments, photos and more. Registration required at Rolesville Community Center.

Cost: $25.00 per couple, non-resident $30.00 per couple, $10.00 per additional child

Where:
Rolesville Community Center
514 Southtown Circle
Rolesville, NC  27571
View map »


Website »

More information

Fun for the entire family, enjoy this wonderful, witty retelling of a classic fairy-tale. With a score consisting of well-known pop songs, follow Snow White and her Seven Dwarves as they try to...

Cost: $10-$60/person

Where:
Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
2 East South Street
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
Telephone: 919-996-8700
Contact Name: Blake Jones
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Directories

Edit ModuleShow Tags