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In today’s society there is a new challenge emerging for parents: raising globally literate and empathetic kids.
Not only will today’s youth confront some of the biggest issues humanity has ever faced, but they are living and working in communities that are more diverse than ever before. A recent Brown University study found that 342 metropolitan regions across the U.S. are becoming increasingly ethnically mixed, creating what the researchers call “Global Neighborhoods.”
And while the world is demanding this cosmopolitan mindset, Mom and Dad are left with a pretty limited toolkit: The internet, and if you’re lucky enough, one big overseas adventure with the family “when the kids are old enough.”
If you have the opportunity to travel the world with your kids, do it, you’ll never regret it. However, if your limited time and finances keep you closer to home, your kids are not out of luck. You still can (and should) raise a globally-minded child.
These are a few strategies we practice at home with our kids to help nurture their innate curiosity about others, even when we’re not on the road.
Start With Yourself
Before you can teach your kid to be a global explorer, you need to be ready yourself. Figure out what your biases are. We’ve all got ‘em, but few of us know them well enough to correct for them.
I make sure, through friends, family, mentors, and news sources, that I am confronting the hard truths about myself and society. This team holds my liberal, educated white dude feet to the fire about the limits of my lived experience; they also keep me in check so I don’t go overboard. I come out with my eyes wide open, but my actions tempered for real effect; ready to help my kids understand privilege without saddling them with a lifetime of guilt over something they cannot change about themselves.
In short, don’t let your hangups become theirs. You’ll both be better for it.
Be The Guide
A global explorer takes chances and is eager to learn. They openly connect with others and value people with different beliefs.
As a parent, you are the guide, mentor, and sherpa on the adventure your kid is taking. They are already an expert adventurer — they are wired to be curious, inquisitive and fearless. Your job, as their guide, is to harness this instinct, keep them relatively safe, and make sure they get something meaningful out of their experiences.
I treat my weekends with the kids like travel. I map out itineraries in our city, where novel or mundane activities can take place in new neighborhoods that we explore during our time together. There’s no need to go to the same Costco every weekend — add 15 minutes to your ride and see a different part of town. You can give your kids the gift of new vistas and new experiences in new neighborhoods or a different grocery store. Give them permission to wander outside of their routine and see that the world is full of variation and unpredictability.
Give The Gift Of Imagination
You already know that your kid’s mind is a fountain of imagination. As a parent, your role is to guide them towards the richest veins of material, the real world.
Every night after we read a few books and turn off the lights, my son, Ellis, and I spend about 15 minutes telling each other stories. Each story starts with, “Once upon a time there was an adventurer named Ellis and he went to…”. Some destinations have their roots in what he learns in preschool, some in fiction (he often goes to Jumanji), some in the places that Diego visits (the Galapagos and Madagascar are popular destinations as well). Steer clear of tales of the exotic and caricatures that play into stereotypes by thinking about the actual things you would do on a trip to a new country – Ellis plays soccer with new friends, chases pigeons in Roman squares, and tries baklava in Egypt.
Bottom line, you do not need to hop on an airplane for your kid to have an engaging and relatable experience.
Simple Words, Complex Ideas
One of the greatest assets for any of explorer are 3 words: I Don’t Know. As a guide to a global explorer, you need to master 3 more: Let’s Find Out.
Whether you travel with your family or not, your job is to show your kid that it’s a sign of wisdom not to know all the answers, and that there is real joy in learning something new.
As part of this discovery, my wife and I also don’t shy away from hard topics. Kids may need simpler words, but not simpler ideas. As a 4-year-old, Ellis knows what is going on in the world, and he asks insightful questions about these issues to find out more. We spend time answering them in ways that mean something to him and leave the door open for further learning.
Be Part Of The Village
Your life is filled with people who look, think, believe, and identify differently. Your job as a parent is to make sure your kid is part of the diversity. This does not mean bringing home burritos on Cinco de Mayo. It means bringing your kids to a coworkers’ son’s confirmation even though you are an adamant atheist. It means inviting your new neighbor into the carpool, even if their job comes with a different uniform than yours. It means that your friends with different skin tones, religions, and sexual identities can all be “auntie and uncle.” And it’s just as important that your child adds to this diversity. Your kid should listen and watch his or her peers, but also share their own stories, traditions, ideas, and identity with others.
Remember the cliched, but most important lesson of travel: it is the journey, not the destination, that matters most. This couldn’t be more true when it comes to raising a globally minded kid.
Mike has spent the last 15 years as an activist, researcher, leader, and strategist in the social sector. For the past 4, he has added Father to his resume. He is currently working to build a new type of cultural institution, The Ubuntu Lab, to help people understand people through exploration, inspiration, and learning.