We all want to raise considerate, compassionate kids with a strong sense of social responsibility. But when our kids are "socialized" in a murky online world of questionable ethics and downright frightening behavior, how do we get them there?
The first step is to get them off the screens-- and outside. Studies show that children who spend much of their time indoors watching television or playing video games can become isolated and withdrawn, even if they think they are "connecting" online.
When a kid goes outside and has real interactions with other kids, they develop improved social skills and have better social interactions. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, free play teaches young people to share, cooperate, and resolve problems. Researchers have found kids who play together and organize games experience a constructive way to avoid social isolation and also helps a child learn teamwork and how to problem-solve with others.
In fact, a 2009 study at the University of Rochester discovered that being in, or even looking at, nature makes human beings nicer.
Early childhood environmental education expert Ruth Wilson Ph.D., points to a plethora of research on what she describes as the "selfish nature of our culture today." Ruth is concerned about a lack of social responsibility in our society and an intense desire to succeed "at any cost." But there's hope if we re-embrace nature, says Wilson. She says that a child's sense of "goodness" emerges through a variety of social interactions and behaviors, their own thinking about these experiences, and dialogue with others about the meaning of these real-life situations.
Experts like Ruth know that children need opportunities to care for living things or observe living things grow. Doing so will help them understand the natural world more deeply and develop intrinsic rewards associated with caring for other living things.
As parents and caretakers, perhaps the best way to help instill a sense of compassion and kindness toward the world is to share our sense of wonder about the world we live in with our children.