2016 was a year when a number of tragic, attention-getting events further illuminated the great need for tolerance, acceptance, awareness, respect and social justice in our country.
Month after month, the stories seemed to be endless:
A police officer shoots an unarmed African American person while making an arrest or responding to a call. Protesters take to the streets to condemn the officer’s actions and demand justice for the victim.
A police officer is shot during a “routine” traffic stop. Citizens express their support for police, pointing out that officers face the possibility of not going home to their families every time they report for duty.
In both situations, facts, perceptions and attitudes all play a role in determining how authority is viewed, how tolerances are set and how the inherent dangers of being a police officer must be balanced with the rights of the people they encounter on the job.
This is a difficult, confusing dilemma for adults to sort out. It becomes even more daunting when parents must try to help their children make sense of it all.
At Boys Town, we’ve had a lot of experience working with kids who have fought against and disrespected authority all their lives. The most important thing we teach them is that authority figures like police officers, teachers, bosses and parents deserve respect and obedience. But we also teach our boys and girls that when authority doesn’t follow the rules or treat people fairly, it is okay to disagree with or question authority in an appropriate manner and work toward making necessary changes.
Even before 2016, the high profile slayings of police officers and the deaths of civilians by police had become flashpoints for a bigger national discussion over race relations and tolerances in our country. These events have shown us there is perhaps an even greater racial and cultural divide than we would like to admit, and have cast doubt on whether our society has made as much progress as we would like to believe in the area of race relations.
This is why it is so important as we head into a new year to teach our children to be respectful, aware, tolerant, sensitive and fair-minded. As adults, they will determine our nation’s course over the next few decades, and the attitudes, beliefs and behaviors they display then will be shaped by what we teach and model for them now.
At Boys Town, two of the most valuable skills we teach our boys and girls are “Tolerating Differences” and “Showing Respect.” (The skill steps are listed below.) They are skills all parents should teach their children to help them accept and get along with others and live by the true meaning of the Golden Rule. I encourage you to help your children master both of these skills and reward them whenever you see your children use them.
- Examine the similarities between you and another person.
- Take note of the differences.
- Emphasize the interests, tastes and activities you share with the other person.
- Express appreciation and respect for the other person as an individual.
- Refrain from teasing, threatening or making fun of others.
- Allow others to have their privacy.
- Obtain permission before using another person’s property.
- Use manners and be courteous to others.
Teaching your children to be tolerant, respectful and accepting can be a difficult task. It requires having a lot of conversations about what’s going on in the world today, and a lot of positive role-modeling by adults so children can develop a solid moral compass. It’s also something families should pray about, either in their own homes at the dinner table or at bedtime, or in community worship. Because at the end of the day, how we decide to view and live with our differences will either divide and weaken us, or bring us together and make us stronger.