by Tami Shaver, LSW
Think back to your childhood for a minute here. Were you surrounded by people involved in the community? Were you encouraged to get involved and understand what was going on around you?
I remember growing up and watching my parents volunteer for various organizations. I remember joining 4-H as a family, where we picked up trash for Adopt-A-Highway and collected Christmas presents for kids who didn’t have any. I remember our family going to a local farm to help clean up after a devastating tornado. I remember my dad working to fix up a neighbor’s farm when he knew the neighbor couldn’t pay him in anything other than homegrown potatoes and chickens.
I also remember my mom encouraging me to form opinions about what I was watching in the news or seeing in my community, but to make sure I could step back to look objectively at the issue, so I could back up my stance with more than emotion. I remember being encouraged to “do something” and get involved if there was an issue I cared deeply about. I remember, and I’m thankful my parents intentionally or unintentionally instilled a civic pride and duty in me.
So what is Civic Engagement? And why is it important? I love this excerpt in the book Civic Engagement and Higher Education, edited by Thomas Ehrlich, 2000:
“Civic engagement means working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference. It means promoting the quality of life in a community, through both political and non-political processes…A morally and civically responsible individual recognizes himself or herself as a member of a larger social fabric and therefore considers social problems to be at least partly his or her own; such an individual is willing to see the moral and civic dimensions of issues, to make and justify informed moral and civic judgments, and to take action when appropriate.”
According to the Search Institute webinar below, research shows that kids who are civically engaged are healthier, have fewer behavior problems, have a higher school achievement, establish good habits for civic life in adulthood and help to form stronger communities.
But you can’t just tell a child to be engaged in the community and expect it to happen. Kids learn best by example, so parents and mentors have a lot of influence in how engaged kids are in the community. If you’d like to be more intentional about getting your child or Little more civically engaged, sit down and talk through some of these questions, provided by the website www.GenerationOn.org:
- What interests us? What do we care about most?
- What do we like to do?
- What skills and talents can we offer?
- What projects would be suitable for all our family members?
- How much time do we have?
- How might the volunteering experience benefit our family?
We also encourage you to watch the Search-Institute webinar, The Roots of Engaged Citizenship: How Youth Build Character and Civic Skills to learn more about why Civic Engagement is important for kids and how you can go about introducing the concept into your family or mentoring relationships.
Ehrlich, T. (Ed.)(2000). Civic Responsibility and Higher Education. Washington, DC: American Council on Education, Oryx Press.
GenerationOn Website: http://www.generationon.org/parents/resources/family-volunteer-guide/start
Search Institute Website: http://www.search-institute.org/
Webinar: The Roots of Engaged Citizenship: How Youth Build Character and Civic Skills – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PlaEVnnuiow&feature=youtu.be