New York Times columnist David Brooks recently cited a survey of young people, most of which said they would prefer to be Justin Bieber’s personal assistant rather than the President of Harvard. Brooks pointed out that their choice was a sign of the times. Our popular culture sets a higher priority on fame (or proximity to it) than on service to others. Sad.
But we can train our children to be different, to derive satisfaction from helping others thrive while being perfectly content to play a background role. To shoo the fleeting nature of fame and embrace the eternal principle of the last being first and the first being last.
Here are 10 ways to teach children it’s not all about them:
Self-absorption eventually saturates everyone around you.
If you have a “me-first” attitude, chances are your children will as well. Instead of immediately going for the easy chair after work, ask your wife if there is something you can do for her before unwinding. When your children see you putting others first, they’ll follow suit.
Honor those who serve you.
Acknowledge your restaurant server with a smile and polite word of encouragement. Tip generously. Treat the cashier at the grocery store with kindness even if he or she has made a mistake and has to re-check a few items. When your children see that you value those who perform less than glamorous tasks, they will begin to respect others regardless of position and place less value on the station one holds in life.
Discuss the value of hard work.
When your children admire someone in the limelight, take time to talk about how much work goes into developing a talent or skill. It can be as simple as, “You know, it takes years of hard work to be able to sing like that.” Or a question, “Do you think it’s more important to be famous than it is to do the best you can with the gifts you’ve been given?” This will help your children begin to recognize the value of hard work versus cheap fame.
Follow through with actions.
When your children show compassion toward those less fortunate, do everything possible within the bounds of age-appropriateness to follow through with an action. If your children bring up the idea of helping the homeless, call a local shelter or ministry and set up an opportunity to serve. Again, if you put a premium on people over position, your children will as well.
Make volunteering a family affair.
It may not be as fun as a trip to the beach or a night out at the movies, but you might be surprised at what a great time you can have serving together. Ask your church, a local charity, or a civic organization for ways you can help. The benefit? You’ll draw your children’s attention to the idea that there is more to life than limousines and the latest fashions.
Point out good role models.
alk with your children about people who are famous for doing great good. You may think of someone like Mother Teresa of Calcutta or Pediatric Neurosurgeon, Ben Carson. Ask your kids at dinner, “Who is more worthy of recognition—Martin Luther King Jr. or Justin Bieber?”
Take advantage of teachable moments.
The next time a celebrity’s mishaps end up plastered all over the web, television, and tabloids, use that opportunity to discuss the disconnect between fame and contentment. Just be sure to do so without being mean-spirited or holier-than-thou. Another great question at dinner, “If fame and money are everything they’re cracked up to be, why do you think this happened?” Or,” After hearing about ________, what do you think the difference is between talent and character?”
Love your children for who they are.
Make sure your children know that you love and value them regardless of whether or not they are talented, popular, or stunningly beautiful. Tell them so repeatedly, especially after a lost ball game, an embarrassing moment at school, or other disappointment that is small in your world but looms large in theirs. Many who pursue fame or undue recognition do so in an effort to fill a void of perceived insignificance, a sense of being unloved, loneliness, or a desire to be acknowledged.
Praise your children.
Be careful not to honor shortcuts, cheating, or success that comes at the expense of others. While we applaud our children’s accomplishments, we shouldn’t do so insincerely or indiscriminately. If your child hits a dribbler to the shortstop, praise him for running hard to first base even though he was called out. But don’t make him out to be Babe Ruth unless he really does knock it out of the park.
Live in a way worth emulating.
At an early age, expose your children to role models who have achieved notoriety based on character, hard work, and real achievement. When your children know what is genuinely worthy of recognition, they won’t be so quick to go for the counterfeit.
Related Resource: 10 Ways to Put Yourself Second
Huddle up with your children tonight and tell them:
It’s not all about you because...
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