From Chapter 1 of My children’s children: Raising young citizens in the age of Columbine
Why a how-to book on raising good citizens?
Since 1999, I have been writing a series of articles for the Index-Journal in Greenwood, South Carolina. These articles (over 165) have addressed timely issues of local and national concern. I organized these articles under five categories or what I call the Five Steps to Community Improvement. These five steps constitute a paradigm that considers all of the systems that have to work together in order to bring about positive changes in our families and in our communities. Upon the urging of colleagues, friends, and readers, I have decided to revise and compile these articles into a single volume that focuses on how we can foster good citizenship (in the broadest sense of that term).
The Five Steps
The FIVE STEPS are—1) Learn to be the best parent you can be, 2) Get involved, 3) Stay involved, 4) Love for others and 5) Forgiveness. These steps serve to emphasize the individual importance of certain words and deeds and at the same time emphasize the inter-relatedness of all of our words and deeds. The words, FIVE STEPS TO COMMUNITY IMPROVEMENT, were carefully chosen. I firmly believe that words and deeds that follow these FIVE STEPS will logically lead to COMMUNITY IMPROVEMENT. Individual improvements in our children and citizens will lead to community gains, and community improvements will provide an enriched environment for all of our children. The effect of these interactions is not just additive. The effect is synergistic (or interactive) and usually much greater than the sums of its individual efforts. That is one reason why community improvement efforts are exciting.
I have to make a confession. Over the course of the last 13 years, I have shared my thoughts (in the form of op-ed articles) with colleagues and friends all over the country. As the audience expanded, I was pleased to spread the message and receive input from multiple sources. However, I soon discovered that the real audience was me. Yes, I found that these articles and their action steps were not abstract concepts that I was relating to other people. As I wrote the articles and considered their significance, the issues addressed have become personal to-do items. I realized that if I really wanted to make a difference I had better practice what I preach. If I do that then I can try to be a more effective husband, father, physician, communicator, facilitator, and even author. Since I want to improve in all of those roles daily, I need to match the deeds with my words.
Over the last several years, I also realized that my suggestions would be well suited for new parents (and really any parents) as a guide for how to raise children. But I specifically did not want to write what I considered to be a standardized guide for raising children. The primary reason for this latter desire is my discomfort with setting myself up as a parenting expert. I have a lot of experience but I certainly do not want to profess to have all of the answers for how to raise children. Instead, this book is intended to present a broad framework for how to raise a good citizen. I think that these two concepts (raising children and future citizens) are vitally linked. Solidly nurtured children become good citizens at the same time that they become healthy adults, both socially and spiritually. I approach this book from the citizenship side because the only way our society can continue to improve is for all of us to have a common purpose—to care for, to love, to nurture, to empathize with, to support, and to come to the aid of others. I want my children, the children that I have cared for as a physician, and all of the children on whom I might have a positive influence to strive for that goal in their lives. This starts in our homes and then spreads to our community. If we all can learn to be the best parents we can be, get involved, stay involved, love others, and exercise forgiveness, we will make significant strides toward cultivating good citizens.
One question arising from my argument might be this: “The FIVE STEPS concept is nice, but why does it matter, especially when parents already have enough responsibilities raising their young children?” The answer is simple—it is absolutely critical. By the end of the book, I hope that the answer is obvious. If we don’t raise our children to understand the essential interplay of everything in our lives and to understand that everything we do has an impact on others, we have failed. In the parenting chapter, I will discuss evidence that emphasizes the critical period of early childhood development (0-3 years of age) and its effect on health.
I am using health in a broad sense. I mean physical health, mental health, educational health, financial health, and social health. I mean the interplay of all these factors. They are all critical to the health of our children and the health of our society. Unhealthy children (in any or all of the ways mentioned above) cannot contribute to a healthy society, and an unhealthy society is severely impaired in its ability to raise healthy children.
For purposes of this discussion, I am not referring to children with special health care needs as necessarily unhealthy. Special needs children provide immeasurable benefits and joy to their families and communities that every family so affected can attest to.
The word CITIZEN is defined as “a member of a state or nation who owes allegiance to its government and is entitled to its protection.” On a more local level, the definition can be “an inhabitant of a city or town, especially one entitled to its privileges and franchises.” The first definition notes an extremely important point regarding citizenship—the entitlement of citizenship requires active involvement in its activities. Allegiance means loyalty to the principles of the government. The ultimate purpose of mandatory public education is to prepare our young men and women for a mature life in the role of citizen.
If our young men and women are to be good citizens, they need to learn basic principles of civic engagement and community improvement. I propose that a few basic principles of citizenship be used along with the paradigm of the FIVE STEPS TO COMMUNITY IMPROVEMENT as a core level of interaction between children, families and society. The rationale follows—
- Health care futurist Leland Kaiser rightfully notes that for community improvement to occur each citizen must take personal responsibility for the activities in their community. These activities might already be positive ones or, more than likely, might be areas for significant improvement. “For anything that happens in our community,” Leland Kaiser challenges each of us as individuals and our society as a whole, “I am the problem, I am the solution, I am the resource.” Those are pretty simple words but the message is a powerful one. We have to respond by saying “I have to take personal ownership in the issues in my community (I am the problem), I have to work with my fellow citizens (I am the solution), and I need to be willing to devote my continuing energies to the community (I am the resource).” We could just as easily substitute the “we” in the sentence—We are the problem, we are the solution, we are the resource. Only by active engagement can we truly make a difference.
- The FIVE STEPS series provides a paradigm for ways to engage in the active participation needed for students to make the transition to adults in society and is further explained in Chapter 2
Why a pediatrician decided to write the book?
Pediatrics is a great medical specialty. Its impact on its practitioners and on patients and their families can be long lasting. For me, the impact has been enormous. I have felt that I have a tremendous responsibility to children and their families. Parents seek medical care and trusted counsel from a respected health care provider with the following abilities—to listen, to diagnose, to provide care, to empathize, to prescribe, to recommend and to treat their patients like one of their own. While pediatricians do not use holy water in their interactions, they do invest an incredible amount of professional experience and emotional energy as they engage in a partnership with their families.
I have always marveled at how my pediatric colleagues refer to their patients as “my children.” Initially, I found that to be a bit presumptuous. Families bring their children to the pediatrician for medical care, not to cede control of them to the doctor. But now I understand the derivation of the rationale. A physician actively engaged in the medical care of their pediatric patients really does (or at least should) invest their physical, mental, and emotional energy into the care of these children. Their patients effectively become “their children.” Years later when these children grow up and have their own children, pediatricians have the real privilege of seeing and often caring for this next generation. The pride in this continuing relationship can be as palpable as the pride that pediatricians who are grandparents have in their own grandchildren.
It is in this latter spirit that this book is written and titled “My Children’s Children”—to provide a legacy of thoughts and suggestions that could potentially have a positive and lasting impact on my children and their children, my grandchildren. What do I mean by my children and their children? First and foremost, I mean my own two sons and their possible future progeny. Second—and equally important—I mean the pediatric patients that I have cared for in my 24 years of primary care pediatrics and now their children. And, finally, I mean all the children that I can possibly have an impact on through my influence as a pediatric provider and staunch child advocate in my community and beyond. I hope to positively influence these three groups to fulfill my nurturing role as a father, as a physician and as a fellow citizen. I use the title “My Children’s Children” to be inclusive for all children, not exclusively referring only to my children.
This book as a tribute to my mother
I’d like to think that if I am successful, I can thank my mother and pay her the ultimate tribute. The ultimate tribute for a parental job well-done is the internalization of positive values from one’s parent(s). They can make a difference in the lives of children for years to come. And I hope that is what has occurred with this book.
My mother was a remarkable woman. She was extremely dedicated to her two sons. My parents divorced when we were around 10 years of age. While we were a family of means based on the wealth of my mother’s parents, my mother had no substantive emotional support from her family and had to deal with issues of spousal alcoholism and my father’s propensity to verbal and physical abuse all on her own. Her ability to essentially strike out on her own and to empathize with, care for, and genuinely love virtually everyone she met was indeed remarkable. As will be evident in Chapter 2, the values that I espouse are those of my mother. But I didn’t know it at the time.
My mother was always engaged in her community and genuinely cared for her fellow citizens and for the life of the community. My mother wrote her journal entry (Chapter 2) during the turbulent 1960s with the Vietnam War and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. as the backdrop. She was called to action from the events of the day.
It appears that the events of Columbine were a similar call to action for me. Since 1999, I have been on this FIVE STEPS journey, suggesting ways to raise young citizens in the years after Columbine or “the age of Columbine.” Events and powers beyond my control have beckoned me to act on behalf of others. I welcome the challenge.
This book is for parents who like my mother want to raise their children the right way—to be good parents and raise good citizens. So I hope to provide a framework, the FIVE STEPS, that can help guide parents in the raising and nurturing of their children. Healthy children (physically, mentally, educationally, financially and socially) are good citizens. Healthy children are our future. Let the FIVE STEPS help and be a guide. Oh—and, thank you, Mom.