Raising Socially Aware Kids

guest post by: Laura Konigsberg, Head of School at Turning Point Academy

At its basic level, feminism asserts that men and women should be considered social, political, and economic equals. But the devil is in the details of what this equality can look like, and how to achieve it. The feminist movement has been rightly criticized for historically focusing on middle class, white, heterosexual women and excluding anyone who did not fit that narrow definition. This exclusive attitude combined with conservatives’ maligning of feminists diminished the appeal of feminism for many young women, for fear of seeming elitist or man-hating. 

Younger women (and men) seem to have revived feminism and redefined it on their terms, sometimes rejecting the more political focus that older generations have embraced for a more individualized version. Contemporary feminism is more inclusive than previous generations, aware of its “intersectionality” that includes race, sexuality, class, as well as gender. With an increasingly sophisticated awareness of gender as a spectrum, rather than a simple binary opposition, what it means to “be a woman” has complicated and enriched feminism as well. I find these offshoots and manifestations exciting but also do not want to lose sight of the social justice element at the heart of feminism that calls for collective action. 

I have been a feminist since I was a child, reading my mother’s Ms. magazines and wanting nothing more than for girls be empowered as much as boys were. I longed for a simple equation with boys and girls on opposite sides of the equal sign when my (male) soccer coach pointed at my breasts and said I could not play goalie anymore, when my (male) advanced math teacher sneered at me when I asked about the conceptual why behind trigonometry formulas, when a boy slapped me on my butt on my way to class. In college, I took courses on feminist theory, and predicted that by the time my generation was ready to have children, we would have the work/home balance figured out, with universal childcare, flexible work hours, and shared parenting responsibilities between partners. (How naïve I was about the pace of change.) By graduate school I understood the social construction and performative nature of gender, the very real differences among women, and global challenges of womanhood around the globe. 

I became an educator, helping young women and men to see the struggles for social justice and equality through the lens of gender, and to appreciate the ways in which men are trapped by gender stereotypes and conventions just as much as women are. Men can never be fully realized as whole, fully-realized human beings until parity is reached. 

As the mother of two sons, I feel a pressing responsibility to model strong womanhood, to help my boys develop empathy, to empower them to see beyond their white privilege and to leverage their privilege to help others, and to remind them that the world is complex and powerful in its diversity. 

Raising socially aware children—boys and girls and everything in between—means deliberate attention to challenging their (and our) comfort zones: 

  • Talk about differences respectfully;
  • Expose children to stories from varying perspectives and embrace the multifaceted nature of each human being, and of people who share a particular background or feature;
  • Teach children to think critically, to use evidence to support their claims;
  • Foster active, nonjudgmental listening;
  • Value creative expression; 
  • Help students to know their own values, and to serve others;
  • Expect students to be “upstanders,” to support others even if it is not a popular stance;
  • Teach children that no means no, and that boundaries—theirs and others’—need to be respected.

To raise the next generation of visionaries and change-makers, as parents it is our joy and our responsibility to provide our children with valuable opportunities to develop independence, bravery, connection, and the conviction that they can affect positive change for the common good. I hope my sons will fight for true equality for all people and will understand that whatever privileges they surrender, in return they receive a vital, loving, and just world. 

(photo credits: @timmarshall)

Tet Salva