Saturday, April 28, 2012

Why is the world so mean and what can I do so my kids aren't?

          So lately I have been pondering a lot about the world and why it seems there are such an enormous amount of people who seem to have lost all ability to care about others.  I guess what spurred this was an article I read on CNN which was very upsetting about a gang rape video going viral. I won’t go into details but the fact that millions of people could sit down and watch that really disturbed me.  You never run out of articles about people’s cruelty now – especially to children.  Matt 24:12 “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” This statement perfectly describes the state of our world today.  But how did we get here?  How could people become so cruel, or have they always been this way?  I certainly know there have been periods of terrible cruelty (Roman times, the Middle Ages, the Mongols to name a few).  And I don’t want to sound ethnocentric but it does seem some cultures have more of a tradition of compassion than others.  Putting that aside, it seems to me that things are getting worse worldwide – there is a definite decrease in love evidenced by simple things like what types of shows are popular on TV (the Bachelor where women are mean and snotty to each other), to the most popular music (angry rap) the decrease in charitable giving, and even the animosity in politics.  So why? What is causing this? 
       As a mother of two young children my thoughts always go to what went wrong when these angry, unloving people were children – I don’t believe that people are just more naturally mean then they used to be.  I don’t claim to have the answers and certainly I have none for areas where parenting styles are different and cultures unique but I have observed American culture and parenting styles.  I do believe that because of the breakdown of the traditional family there is just less love and quality time to go around for kids which can lead to a lot of these negative outcomes.  Also, the amount of addictions in the world and violence causes a great deal of trauma to children which can lead to apathy for others.  However, I believe that even kids raised in two-parent families seem to be less loving and more self-centered.  It seems to me just looking at my own life that I had quite a shock after getting married and having kids realizing that life is not actually going to be about me, life is not actually going to be fun and happy and easy all the time – or even most of the time.  I remember feeling sort of sorry for myself that I went from a life devoted to creating my own fun to a life of taking care of demanding children.  Of course I love my kids and have so much fun with them but I also found myself feeling selfish thoughts about how little I was getting to do for myself.  I don’t want to deviate but it does seem that this idea that I have, and I believe children are growing up with today, the idea that life is for enjoyment and that we have a right to have our own happiness (separate from the happiness gained from service), is a route cause for all the lack of compassion and meanness in the world today.  I consider myself a relatively compassionate person, I am however also quite selfish.  As I went through this period of self-pity (I haven’t totally finished going through itJ) I noticed that I cared less about people, I didn’t feel the empathy and love for others that I used to.  I was too focused on my own desires.  (I actually have a great life and am very happy, I feel like this is making me seem depressed which isn’t true at all but at the same time motherhood has been an adjustment for me in many ways as I think it has been for many of my friends). 
So I guess what I am getting to is after realizing the great evil and lack of compassion found in the world I want to keep my kids from becoming self-focused, uncaring adults and I am trying to figure out how to do that.  I guess the three things I most want to give my children to be able to deal with the world they will live in is.  1) Empathy for others 2) Confidence and Leadership ability 3) The ability to create their own happiness
From listening to religious talks, to speaking with siblings, to reading parenting books here is a list of things I want to apply that I feel may help my children gain these qualities.  I am no expert and am not applying all these things yet but this is more a list for me to refer to occasionally to make sure I am trying to do it with my kids.
1.        Give my children the opportunity to serve others from a very young age – My older sisters have their children visit widows and they have had amazing experiences as they develop love and compassion for these women and feel the love they receive in return.  It is important for children to see others suffering, to put some perspective on life and start giving them an idea of what to expect in their own future – life is not always easy.  It was only after living in poverty-stricken Tanzania for four months that I started to develop a deep compassion for others because I started to put my own problems in perspective.
2.       Teach my children to express gratitude to others – I don’t want my children to expect to be treated kindly by others because it likely won’t happen a lot of the time, I do want them to recognize and appreciate when they are treated kindly so they are grateful and realize they want to treat others that way.  Kids from blessed households seem to have great expectations of what they deserve and they may be shocked as they get older when those same blessings are not forthcoming. 
3.       Create boundaries – If kids don’t have rules and work to do we are not preparing them to be adults.  Spoiled kids grown up will be much less able to deal with the trials of life.  If we think making our kids happy is for their own good we are wrong – of course you give your kids great experiences and a lot of love but giving in to their every wish is doing them no service and creating entitled and ungrateful children.  You simply cannot get excited about having cake if you have it every day – the more you give kids the less satisfied they will be with what you give them.  My daughter worries me because it seems if I give into her just once she remember is for weeks and weeks – I know particularly with her I have to be perfectly CONSISTENT.  I got her out of her bed a week ago to change her diaper and every night since then she wakes up at the same time and cries for up to three hours (not exaggerating).  Of course I want to go in and get her when she screams and I feel like I am a mean mom but if I give in then she will not learn and my life will return to what it was the first year of her life – a sleepless nightmare.  Kyla needs boundaries so badly – if I don’t create them for her she doesn’t have the ability to create any for herself.  Creating them is difficult and makes children and parents unhappy in the short term but much happier in the long term.
4.       Help my kids develop Confidence – I believe that some children are just more naturally confident than others and those kids you might not need to do much for…in fact you might need to try and reign in the confidence so it doesn’t turn to pride.  Other kids need something to lean for confidence – especially as they go through their teenage years.  Hopefully we can instill in our children the truth that they are Sons and Daughters of God and that should be their ultimate source of confidence.  However, I do believe that some children need external confidence. I was not the most spiritual teenage (still working on it) and I think it was important for me to feel confidence in other things.  I got this from having traveled a lot, getting good grades, etc…  Now this is a very fine line because you don’t want to praise your kids on these things too much or when their grades aren’t as good or when they stop traveling it can be devastating.  In fact I have read (Nuture Shock) that you shouldn’t praise kids at all for attributes (you are smart, you are fast) but instead for effort (you kept trying).  Give them opportunities to figure out for themselves that they can accomplish things on their own and can achieve great things.  I think immature teenagers sometimes need shallow things to help them feel like they are important and that they don’t need to rely on others – they are cool without following the cool crowd.  If my son or daughter worries me that they care too much about friends or are self-conscience I think I might want to put them in sports, or have them take a trip oversees, something to help develop themselves or put things in perspective.
5.       Teach my kids to lead not follow – My sister tells her kids every-day before they leave the house to remember that they are leaders not followers.  In today’s evil filled world sending my kids to school scares me to death.  I don’t think I could send them into that atmosphere without a confidence they can lead, not follow. I am not totally sure how to do that but I think as individual things happen and my children are faced with choices I hope I will sit down with them and be able to rely on the spirit to teach them about their divine nature and the importance of being an example.  I don’t necessarily want my kids to be student body president, I just mean I want my kids to be able to be an influence rather than be influenced.  I hope my husband and I can be an example of that to them.
6.       Face Trials and overcome moods – Creating your own happiness is so important and something my companion on my mission would say over and over “we create our own happiness”….I still haven’t mastered that one but I think hiding kids from trials and protecting them from unhappiness doesn’t prepare them for what is to come.  When my son is moody I tell him that it is his choice to be in this mood and he pray for help to get out of it.  I don’t know how well it works yet but I have read and seen that trying to make your kids happy and accommodate their moods is not teaching them coping skills.  Sometimes kids just need to be left alone and figure out how to get out and most importantly develop their relationship with their Savior to overcome their trials.  But I don’t allow my children to subject me and their family to their bad mood.  When I am in a bad mood I try to go in another room or go for a walk because I don’t feel like it is right to make everyone else miserable.   
Anyone these are just some ideas and thoughts I wanted to put down but I would appreciate any and all suggestions you may have on how to ensure our kids will be kind-hearted, confident, and happy in today’s mean-spirited world.